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By Jesse Utz 

Sometimes something bigger happens


It happened not long after graduation started in the Lake Roosevelt 2018 ceremony. A shift occurred. One more graduate was added to the class, and there was not a dry eye in the gym.

It first appeared in the class speaker’s address. A slight mention of a teacher that “roasted” students, then as the valedictorian’s speech turned from one of them to one of him; followed by a video sequence that told everyone that there was one more to be added to the program. If we did not know yet, an award for Teacher of the Year was added to the mix and then we knew for sure that Gary Darnold was graduating with the seniors of LR 2018.

Not to downplay everything else that happened on that stage that day. It was truly an awe inspiring series of events all the way around. Over $700,000 in scholarships and awards, two students receiving a standing ovation for their commitment to patriotism, Khani Priest’s powerful speech about overcoming the challenges of growing up on the rez, the other Darnold receiving Staff of the Year, the band playing the best National Anthem that a crowd in that gym has heard for years, Joette Barry handing out diplomas as her last act as a school board member and giving one to a girl she helped save and now calls daughter. I could go on and on. But this was truly about a small class of seniors that just took Mr. Darnold with them as they went.

Mr. Darnold has many accolades and numbers to go with his accomplishments. I am sure they are or will be printed on these pages soon. But there is one thing that cannot be measured or collected on a data sheet. How many lives were changed because of Mr. D? On Facebook, after the ceremony, hundreds of former students chimed in responses about their beloved math teacher. Students who claimed Mr. D was the reason they became a teacher, gained work ethic, believed in self and many other things.

One thing I heard from a former student, and now almost former colleague, was this phrase: “During the day, it is all about the students; but after work, make it all about family.” This was the advice given to Gretchen Whitelaw many years ago by Mr. Darnold. It is so true, too, especially if we take a spotlight look at the Darnolds. We have seen it over the years, putting in long hours of work to jumping in the Challenger and heading across state to watch a single game. Not only is Mr. Darnold a mentor to others on how to be a good teacher, he is a mentor on how to be a good parent, grandparent, husband and friend. The true numbers of how many people have truly been touched by Mr. Gary Darnold are impossible to calculate, but one thing I can figure out.

The classes following the class of 2018 are missing out on a very special man, teacher and mentor. Yes, someone will come along to sit in his chair in his room. And, yes, the students will soon forget the name Darnold when the new teacher is up there teaching ratios and other math stuff. But the classes that did have Mr.D…. Nope. They will never forget the Man, Gary Darnold. Enjoy retirement and your family.

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