The Pacer community lost one of its own earlier this year when Michael Kraemer died unexpectedly. On June 2, students and staff said goodbye to the Lakeridge High senior with a moment that Kraemer's mother called "amazingly heartwarming."
Kraemer passed away at age 18 on Feb. 10 from a cardiac event related to complications from pneumonia. But he was not forgotten at the Lakeridge commencement ceremony, where Response-to-Intervention coordinator David Salerno Owens accepted a Presidential Award for Educational Achievement bestowed upon Kraemer posthumously.
"It was pretty touching," Salerno Owens recalled. "A standing ovation from all the students and parents — it was pretty emotional."
Rachel Kraemer, Michael's mother, was there to witness the outpouring of love.
"As I move through my grief, I have so many different feelings and stages that it's sometimes difficult to understand what I'm feeling," she told The Review, "but I felt a great pride and warmth and sense of community in that moment."
Recipients of the Presidential Award have demonstrated outstanding educational growth, improvement, commitment or intellectual development in their academic subjects. Michael Kraemer had done just that, Salerno Owens said.
Kraemer already was having some difficulties in school when his father died in December, and then the young man was diagnosed with pneumonia that same month, Salerno Owens said. But despite losing his father and trouble with his own health, Kraemer kept fighting.
He strove to recover from his illness, but he'd missed a lot of school while he was sick and had fallen farther behind. So he signed up for an intensive study hall for students who are struggling, and Salerno Owens was helping him stay on track to graduate.
"In light of everything that was going on with him at home and with his own health, it was something we were definitely working on with him," Salerno Owens said.
Counselor Paula Emery said that many other students would have quit after going through all Kraemer had been through. But Emery said he was determined to persevere.
"I feel honored to have been able to have helped him find some ways to get through, but it's really been his effort that got him to where he was," she said. "I loved his energy and enthusiasm and his ability to ask for help when he needed it. He always asked respectfully, never without really needing the help, and always used whatever help he got very well.
"He came from a place of strength and resilience," Emery said.
Kraemer was striving to improve in English, science and history, Salerno Owens said. Yet despite the issues he was experiencing, the diligent student had come to love English class the most because of an ability to empathize with characters in pain, he said.
"I think that was really just being able to relate to a lot of the plays and the stories that they would read about," Salerno Owens said.
Kraemer, an active theater fan, especially loved to see those plays on stage. Although he'd transferred from McMinnville High School and had only been at Lakeridge for two years, he'd already gotten heavily involved in the drama community and had close ties with the Pacer family. He'd played Friar Francis in 2016 in Lakeridge's rendition of the Shakespearean comedy "Much Ado About Nothing," and he was enrolled in the Lakeridge Musical Theatre Workshop this winter.
In addition to his devotion to theater, Kraemer enjoyed singing in the bass section of Lakeridge's A Cappella choir. He also performed a solo of an Italian opera during the district solo festival in December 2015.
Since he really enjoyed music and theater, it's possible he would have explored a career in that vein. Or he might have done something similar to his brother, Andrew Kraemer, who is studying art at Portland Community College. But Salerno Owens said what Michael Kraemer would have done next was a big unknown because the young man, just like many teens, was still trying to decide what career path to take.
Regardless, Salerno Owens said, he'll always remember a charismatic young man who could light up a room with his presence.
Kraemer was something of an introvert, Salerno Owens said, but he knew how to deliver a joke.
"He generally kept to himself, but he was still very humorous and funny in his own right," he said.
Rachel Kraemer said her son had become an amazing man, "not just a young man, but a man."
"You could see it in the way he stood and talked," she said. "He was very mature."
She said when Kraemer was in junior high, he was a bit of a prankster. Twice he put Pop-Its (also called bang-snaps or poppers) under her car tires so they exploded in a sudden cacophony, echoing through the garage. But she didn't get angry.
"We were too close for that," she said.
In his time at Lakeridge, she saw her son become involved in music and theater. And although he was shy, he developed an "internal confidence."
"He really felt at home and supported at Lakeridge," she said. "When he was ready to get into the high-school spirit, he really went for it and really broadened his horizons and opened up."
She says that as the saying goes, "it takes a village to raise a child," and the Lakeridge community helped transform her boy into a quietly confident man.
She says she's in "a crazy place" now, where her life feels "scattered, discombobulated" without the man she had married two decades ago and without her youngest son. Rachel and Chris Kraemer had been married for 18 years and together for 20 years, and even though they'd divorced a couple of years ago, they'd reached a point where they'd become friends, she noted.
Still, she knows she is not alone with a community that has rallied around her.
"So many people to thank," she said. "I wish I could tell everybody thank you."
Now, she has.