The grads in the high school gym in the town of Republic found a dollar bill taped under their seats. The message, Palin said: "You gotta get off your butt to make a buck."
The Spokesman-Review reported that 700 people crowded into the gym for the ceremony Saturday. Republic, the government seat of Ferry County, is a town of 1,100 in a historic gold-mining region.
Palin told the audience that in 1964, when her father, Chuck Heath, set out for Alaska from Sandpoint, Idaho, where she had been born just a few months before, the family had car trouble. She said they stopped in Republic, where a mechanic fixed the car for a pittance and sent them on their way.
"You got us on our path," Palin said, to more applause.
That was a big part of the reason Palin accepted an invitation from senior class President Tyler Weyer to be the graduation speaker. The class posed in the school's front yard holding a "We Want You, Governor Palin!" banner that got attention on Facebook.
"Through this entire process, I've learned many things," Weyer said in his introduction of the former vice presidential candidate. "Anything is possible; all you've got to do is want it."
Palin's presence lent a little extra pomp and circumstance to the annual tradition in Republic. The ceremony featured caps, gowns, squealing infants and tearful parents sending face-reddening hand waves toward their children, the newspaper reported.
There were also reminders of rural Washington. Senior Heather Giddings received the home economics award, earning praise as the "best wild game cook in Eastern Washington." Giddings and her classmates celebrated their accomplishment on a stage flanked by paper banners bearing the class motto: "You Only Live Once."
Shops along Republic's main drag welcomed Palin, and Helen Weinar, a Czech immigrant, traveled all the way from her home outside Seattle with her daughter, Helen De Leon. They plopped down outside Republic High School at 5:30 a.m. to ensure that they'd see Palin.
"It's a dream come true," Weinar said.
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