7:15 p.m. PDT May 26, 2016
There weren’t many dry eyes in the room Thursday afternoon when South Salem High School graduating senior Calista Kountz thanked her parents for all they have done for her.
Calista, 18, worked with the Salem-Keizer School District to surprise and thank her father, Erick Kountz, at his workplace, the Oregon Consumer and Business Services office in Salem.
Her mother, Kori Kountz, works in the same office, and helped plan the surprise. Since Erick has served in many leadership roles with the school as a parent volunteer, Calista and Kori teamed up to thank him specifically.
Calista stood in the cafeteria of the office, dressed in her baby blue cap and gown, holding flowers, balloons, a card and a Kit Kat bar. Her father walked in, unsure of what was happening.
As she pulled out the card to read her father the message, she said, “I’m already crying and I haven’t even said anything.”
“I am here today to show you how much you are appreciated,” she read through tears.
Calista listed the ways her father has influenced her school and personal education, including his role in the booster and athletics clubs and his support as she worked into the early hours of the morning on projects.
“Every day I am thankful for having you as my dad,” she read. “Our relationships is something I will always treasure. Thank you for giving so much to South and to me. I love you to the moon and beyond.”
Erick was definitely surprised, asking time and again what was going on.
But ultimately, he was touched to be thanked just days before his daughter graduates.
When he spoke to the group of 30 or so coworkers gathered to see the surprise, including his wife, he began to tear up as well.
“The truth is — and now I’m going to cry — I have a great life, truly,” he said. “I have many blessings, truly. And she is the best.”
He thanked Kori as well, saying he couldn’t have done anything without her.
He said all parents hope their children come into the world happy and healthy and to raise them in a way they will be successful in life.
“You have been so astounding,” he said to his daughter. “You are loved by so many … I am so happy you’re mine.”
Two other seniors planned to surprise their parents as well.
The district reached out to the six traditional high schools in the area and asked them to recommend one student for the first year of this project.
All three students surprised their parents at their workplaces.
Kountz will attend Pacific University in Forest Grove in the fall, planning to study biology on the pre-med track. She wants to be a pediatrician to help children in pain and one day plans to live in London.
Natalie Pate is education reporter for the Statesman Journal. Contact Natalie at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow her on Twitter@Nataliempate, on Facebook at Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist or on the Web at nataliepate.com