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Cheyenne Central High graduate Cameron Owens walks back to his seat after receiving his diploma during commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 26, 2017 at Storey Gymnasium in Cheyenne. Blaine McCartney/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Cameron Owens is as American as they come. He is Native American, a soon-to-be Marine and loves the outdoors, especially fishing.

The 18-year-old graduated from Cheyenne’s Central High on Friday afternoon.

He spent a large part of Thursday relaxing at Lions Park with his fishing pole and checking nearby driftwood for snails to use as bait. Cameron often uses bait he catches himself.

In addition to snails, Cameron said he uses crawdads, leeches and more. “We have a little spot. It’s a little creek that goes into the pond, and leeches hide up under the rocks,” he said.

Cameron said he and his friend Danny Coles meet at the park to fish almost every day.

“Normally I go fishing for carp and catfish. My biggest carp was almost 30 pounds,” he said.

Now that he’s out of high school, Cameron said he hopes to be a sniper or a gunner in the U.S. Marine Corps. “I’d just like to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps.”

He said his grandfather was a sniper in the U.S. Army and served in the Vietnam War.

Cameron said his grandfather died from the effects of Agent Orange, a dangerous herbicide the U.S. military used as part of its chemical warfare efforts during the Vietnam War.

Cameron submitted a waiver request to the Marine Corps about three months ago because of his astigmatism. His waiver went through a month ago, and he signed his paperwork two weeks ago. He said he will go to basic training just after Cheyenne Frontier Days.

Cameron exercises with Col. Thomas Johnson, Central’s ROTC instructor, every morning. He said he decided to work out with Johnson because he thought being in good shape would help him in the Marine Corps.

Johnson said, “He has this dedication and drive to go into the military. Everything was about the military.”

Johnson said he offered to let any students come to school at 6 a.m. and work out with him, and Cameron took him up on it.

“For four years he was my workout buddy. He’s in better shape than I am now. He couldn’t even run a mile when we first started. Now he can run a 2-mile in 12 minutes,” Johnson said.

He added that when Cameron first joined ROTC, he had a small braid that was part of his Native American heritage.

Johnson said it was too long to wear with the uniform, but Cameron said he couldn’t cut it without permission from his tribe. Johnson said he planned to research it from his end to see if it could be maintained for religious reasons.

“He came back and it was cut the next day. I said, ‘Did you get permission?’ and he said, ‘No, I want to be in ROTC, so I cut it.’ This is all he wanted to do,” Johnson said.

Cameron faced some challenges getting to graduation because he doesn’t have his parents around to care for him.

“I haven’t lived with my parents for two years,” Cameron said. “My dad – I believe he’s in jail in Wisconsin. And my mom – I don’t know. She freaked out and started drinking and then left with my sister and brother.”

Johnson said Cameron wanted to stay in Cheyenne to be in ROTC. “She said, ‘You’re getting in this car and we’re getting out of here,’ and he said, ‘I’m not leaving.’ She drove off,” Johnson said.

He said he thinks Cameron expected she would come back, but she never did.

“I offered to have him move in with me, and he was afraid I would lose my job because of fraternization with a student,” Johnson said.

Cameron now stays with an uncle in town, but his uncle never was his legal guardian.

Cameron wasn’t emancipated either, so he faced challenges with handling some tasks, such as securing health insurance and other needs that parents usually handle for teenagers.

He said Amy Fluegge, one of his teachers at Central High, helped him with a lot of those tasks.

Fluegge said, “He calls me his school mom.” She’s been on maternity leave recently, and she said he bought her a card and collected signatures around the school for her.

Johnson said he thinks part of what draws Cameron to the military is the image of a true American patriot.

“His mother drank a lot and it disgusted him. Alcohol, drugs, all that kind of stuff really disgusts him,” Johnson said.

“I think he sees being in the military as being that role model American – a patriot. I really feel that if he could wrap his arms in a flag and go forward, that would be what he would want to do.”

Fluegge said, “He has persevered through a lot of things that kids his age probably would struggle with. He really relies on people at school, but he’s really matured with that aspect that he really doesn’t have parents here to take care of him.”

Similarly, Johnson said, “He’s a survivor. He’s done it on his own with the help of – everybody loves him at the school. Amy Fluegge has been an incredible influence on him, and so has Brian Stokes. People care for him and make sure he’s taken care of.”

Both Johnson and Fluegge heard from staff members on Friday who wanted to make sure someone was taking Cameron to the graduation ceremony.

Johnson heard from one of Central High’s custodians. “Even the janitors are proud of him and love him. He’s going to have a tough time leaving here, because this is his family,” he said.

Cameron admitted, “It’s kind of sad to graduate and then have no contact with everybody else for a while.”

Until he leaves for basic training in two months, Cameron is filling his time with his custodial job at Cheyenne’s Pioneer Park Elementary and teaching himself to repair his 2000 Ford Mustang

But any free time he has likely will find him at Sloans Lake, possibly trying to surpass that 30 pound carp.

Cheyenne’s Central High graduates focus on the future

CHEYENNE – A focus of Cheyenne’s Central High’s graduation ceremony Friday was moving forward.

The school graduated 270 seniors during its 2017 commencement ceremony.

The senior class motto was, “You get to decide the legacy you leave,” by an unknown author. Each speaker at the ceremony followed that thread.

Central High Principal Fred George said he started the year by issuing a challenge. This year’s challenge was “stay relevant and get involved.”

He told the graduates he challenges them to continue that as they take their next steps.

“Engage yourself with family. Listen closely to your parents or grandparents. Their successes and failures will provide you with a valuable background in moving forward. Remember that one,” he said.

“Take time to appreciate what your family has done for you. Say thank you to loved ones every chance you get. Be specific with your words of appreciation. I encourage you to engage in community and country. Volunteer. Help others. Vote. Be part of the solution.”

Kevin Cates, the teacher chosen by students to speak at the graduation, said, “When choosing what doors to open in your life, imagine what may be on the other side.”

He explained that each student was born with a purpose, and told them they should use that purpose to improve the lives of others.

“Graduates, I challenge you today to take the lessons learned from those who have positively impacted your lives and use them to open your next door, one that will not lead to a pursuit of your own personal interests but to a life in true fulfillment in the service of others.”

LCSD1 Board of Trustees Chairwoman Lynn Storey-Huylar also told the students that purpose is important in life. She told them that whatever they choose to do, she hopes it gives them purpose and makes them happy.

“Life is too short not to be happy, and the Flash said, ‘Life doesn’t give us purpose. We give life purpose,’” she said.

Senior Hunter Galluzzo told his fellow students to appreciate their teachers and mentors. “These people showed us the value of hard work – that we can achieve great things in life with the right attitude,” he said.

“As scary as this sounds to some – being completely self supportive for the first time – we are prepared. We have been given the skills necessary to succeed in an ever-changing world. We will become amazing people.”

While Galluzzo acknowledged that some of the graduates might be nervous to take the lead in their lives, Senior Class President Samantha Johnson took a different approach to the new responsibility.

She said, “For many years, we’ve been told what to do, where to go and how to act. But starting now, we get to be in control.”

She told her peers to listen to the words of Mikhail Baryshnikov: “Do not make it your goal to be the best. ‘Best’ is a label. It’s something someone else decides for you. ‘Better’ is more personal.”

Johnson said, “You get to define who you are and what you stand for, and you don’t have to be what others say you are.”

But Cates told the graduates that no matter where they go, they’ll always have a home at Central High. “Once a Central Indian, a Central Indian for life,” he said.

Kristine Galloway is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kgalloway@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3184. Follow her on Twitter @KGalloway_WTE.

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