Happiness, hopes – and a little bit of heartbreak: Paw Paw High School says farewell to its final group of graduates

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PAW PAW – “Timothy Joseph McNally.”

With those words from superintendent Stan Adcock, the Paw Paw High School Class of 2019 salutatorian became the final student in the 117-year history of the eastern Lee County high school Friday night to clench a high school diploma that read “Paw Paw High School.”

The commencement exercise was the final one for the school. Incoming freshman through senior students now will make a 22-mile round trip to attend Indian Creek High School in Shabbona, starting in August.

Voters in DeKalb, LaSalle and Lee counties in and around Paw Paw approved a referendum in November to cease high school operations at the school.

“It’s pretty cool being the last class to graduate from here,” McNally said. “We’ll be the last [class] picture in the hallway, and that’s pretty neat.”

McNally, who also was class president, was among 15 students who bid farewell to the school. Anthony Castaldo was its final valedictorian.

“Paw Paw is not a large town, but the thing that makes it special is the love and care that the community has shown to each and every one of us,” Castaldo said.

For some of the graduates, trying to find a way to keep their yellow flower buds pinned to their purple graduation capes was the last problem they had to figure out inside the high school.

“It’s different, knowing that there will not be a high school next year,” McNally said. “Hopefully the kids will do good next year transitioning to a new school.”

The remaining high school student body will trade their Bulldog purple and gold for Timberwolf red and black. Some Paw Paw students already had become Timberwolves; the school’s athletic department merged with Indian Creek at the beginning of this year.

Graduates Joshua Wiseman and Riley Oros said that as the year wound down to a close, there were plenty of bittersweet moments – not just for the class, but for the high school as a whole.

“It’s a weird feeling knowing that we’re the last ones out of here, after every other class that’s gone through,” Wiseman said.

“It’s cool knowing that we are the last graduating class,” Oros added. “It’s kind of sad at the same time. It’s emotional.”

Ken Cradduck graduated from Paw Paw High 64 years ago today in the Class of 1955. He and 1998 graduate Sue Johnston attended in support of graduate Zachary Clayton.

“It hurts my heart,” Cradduck said, trying to hold back a tear. “The kids are getting so few.”

Cradduck grew up on a nearby farm.

“We all had a good, fun time.”

Johnston said that she, and several alumni and residents, are hopeful that they can have a high school back in the town of 870 residents once more, but can understand the need for change.

“We definitely love to have that sense of community pride and sense of togetherness here in Paw Paw,” Johnston said. “It’s kind of bitter to see them go and be part of Indian Creek, but at the same time I’m excited for the students to be able to have more opportunity, more classes, and just having a different experience getting to know different students.”

Castaldo has hopes that this may not be the end at Paw Paw.

“I am proud to soon be an alumni of Paw Paw High School, part of the last graduating class of Paw Paw High School for some time,” Castaldo said. “Whether that time be a few short years, or forever, just know that the legacy of this school will last eternally in our hearts.”


Number of commencements: 117

2019 graduates: 15

Graduates who plan to attend college: 9

Average GPA: 3.36

Valedictorian: Anthony Castaldo

Salutatorian: Timothy McNally