Circumstance for pomp
Graduation ceremony carries extra meaning for EHS senior Woosley
Spending a few seconds with Cassie Woosley, it's apparent the role animals play in the Eudora High School senior's life.
Pulling in the gravel driveway of her grandparent's rural Eudora home, which houses a Noah's Ark-worthy collective of animals, Woosley emerges from the car. Her grandmother LaDonna Lickteig knowingly comments that her granddaughter picked something up on her way home from her after-school job at a Baldwin City veterinary clinic.
Woosley walks over to the backyard patio and places a turtle, retreated in its shell, on the rocks by a fabricated fish pond.
It's not the first time a road-weary turtle or other animal, injured or otherwise in need of assistance, has found its way home with Woosley. Fittingly, she is also part of the agriculture and FFA program at the Countryside Learning Center in De Soto, part of a vocational education program in which Eudora students are involved.
"When I was little, I used to come out here all the time," Woosley said of the farm where she now lives with her grandparents, Vic and LaDonna Lickteig, and which jumpstarted her love affair with animals. "I've always had a pet dog or something I bought with my allowance. I'd have (animals) I'd pick up and keep for a while."
When Woosley receives her diploma with the rest of the Eudora High School class of 2004 on Sunday, she will begin a college and career path she hopes will lead her to a life of working with animals. But the path that will bring this senior to the podium Sunday has had a few more twists and turns than most.
To share experiences difficult to articulate, Woosley wrote a short biography explaining how she came to Eudora High School in 2001 and how far she has come since then.
Living with relatives in Topeka, Woosley missed school a lot, busy taking care of other foster children in the family.
"I grew up being told that I was stupid, dumb and retarded," Woosley wrote.
Placed in special education classes, Woosley was too busy helping handicapped students or working in the kitchen to be learning what other students were. Earning Ds and Fs and missing school led Woosley to quit.
Woosley writes that her relatives got her a job sacking groceries to help pay their bills. Fed up, Woosley quit the job and got in touch with the Lickteigs, the grandparents she hadn't seen in several years.
"After a couple days of telling Grandma what had been going on and telling her when I returned to Topeka my aunt said I would have to get on welfare because I was too dumb and retarded to hold a job, my Grandma became furious and said I was never going back again," Woosley wrote.
Making the transition to Eudora High School as a sophomore wasn't easy for her granddaughter, LaDonna Lickteig said. The grandmother remembered how nervous Woosley was as she stepped on the bus each day and the adjustments she made because of the discrepancies between her old school and Eudora.
Lickteig said her granddaughter left a school where she'd never touched a computer. At Eudora High School, Woosley was using computers with students who'd taken a computer class at the middle school level.
"I was probably at a fifth- or sixth-grade reading level," Woosley said of her arrival at Eudora High School. "I couldn't spell."
Woosley said high school counselor Brian Kraus encouraged her to take traditional classes.
"At first it was hard," Woosley said. "After I got in the swing of things I got quite a few good grades."
In addition to counselor Kraus, Woosley credits fellow teachers Justin Mayer and Ty Pattison with her success.
"They were one of my biggest helps," she said.
Woosley said she spent two years working on reading.
"I had to start from learning the sounds of vowels," she said. "At the beginning it was pretty basic. It was actually like going to kindergarten again."
Now, Woosley said she tested just about 10 percent below the 12th-grade reading level and plans on testing again before starting college.
"I still find textbooks are hard to read," she said.
Among Woosley's college schedule next year are a basic English and college reading class. Her mentors have offered her suggestions to make the transition to college easier. Woosley said Pattison had even offered to help the former student with her college work during his planning periods next semester.
Despite the attitudes toward her intelligence Woosley faced early in her life, she said she always looked at college as a possibility.
"I've always wanted to go to college," she said. "Everybody says it takes a long time to do that, but I've always wanted to be a vet since I was little," Woosley said.
To get there -- or to some other related field -- Woosley anticipates majoring in biology for her undergraduate degree at Haskell Indian Nations University, where she will begin this fall in Lawrence. Getting into Haskell was no small feat, as Woosley had to trace her Cherokee ancestry back to her great-grandmother and get her roll number, a process that took from August until April, Woosley's grandmother said.
Life of wildlife
Before starting classes, Woosley has a six-week internship lined up at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, where she will get to work with waterfowl, her favorite animals. But Woosley is also excited about the prospect of learning falconry during the internship.
Her propensity for waterfowl is evident at her grandparents' farm, where she cares for, among other animals, swans and ducks. After coming home from her after-school job at the vet clinic, Woosley said she often kept her work clothes on to do the chores necessary to keep the farm running. After that comes homework.
"My friends are always asking, 'Are you going out?'" Woosley said. "I'm usually here."
Part of her studies center around classes she takes at the Countryside Learning Center in De Soto, where she has learned a variety of skills, among them how to judge soil, and had the opportunity to dissect animal hearts and kidneys.
"If you know (the anatomy of) a horse, you can know the cow and sheep," she said. "Chickens were hard."
Through the class, Woosley learned skills from how to correct the crooked feet of a newly hatched chicken to how to give an animal its shots, practicing on a bevy of animals from her instructor's barn cats to her own degu, a cousin of the Florida rat.
The program covers the spectrum of agriculture, including horticulture.
"I can name 100 plants," she said.
Hard work rewarded
When senior honors were handed out and recognized Sunday, Woosley was recognized for a $50 FFA Savings Bond Scholarship; an Eastern Kansas Association of Educational Office Professionals Scholarship; and an East Central District FFA Poultry Proficiency Award.
Although many of her classmates also earned similar honors their senior year, it has special meaning for Woosley. Out of the children she was raised with, Woosley said just three or four graduated from high school. Moreover, Woosley said quitting school had been her sisters' birthday present.
"I always loved school," she said. "I wanted to go to school."
In conjunction with Sunday's ceremonies, Woosley is planning to celebrate her accomplishment with family and friends.
"We only have two more days (of school)," she said Monday evening. "I've got a lot of planning to do."
In addition to crediting her teachers and grandparents in her achievement, Woosley considers her faith in God as a foundation for her success. Although Woosley expresses her excitement about the upcoming ceremony as any excited graduating senior might, there's something emphatic about the way she says it that indicates graduating means something more to her than to most seniors.
"I am so excited," she said.