By Tony Parra
Sixty-eight years after her graduation from now-defunct Rogers High School, Elizabeth Wortham finally was recognized as an honorary valedictorian for the class of 1936.
Wortham received her honorary valedictorian certificate on Friday at the Heartland Care Center in Portales. Todd Terry, Faith Triumphant principal, presented her with the award in front of her family members and other Heartland Care residents.
“There was a big oversight in 1936,” Terry said. “We’re here to take care of that.”
Rogers High School hasn’t been open since 1958, according to Wortham. Dawn Kryder of Heartland Care Center, said she didn’t tell Wortham there was going to be a celebration and a certificate was going to be awarded to her, proclaiming her an honorary Valedictorian.
Kryder said Wortham alleges that she had the highest grades in her class while she was going to school at Rogers High School, but because of a disability she was told she could not represent the school as a valedictorian. Kryder said Wortham told her that her principal thought it would give a bad image of the school.
Kryder said Wortham is a proud woman and probably wouldn’t have gone for the celebration — had she known about it.
“We told her we were celebrating the changing in America,” Kryder said. “We told her people were going to be dressed in Pilgrims’ outfits and other outfits through America’s history. We had her dress in a black cap and gown to commemorate the first time someone wore a cap and gown.”
Kryder said Wortham is an extremely smart woman and even now at the age of 86 is hard to fool.
“We had to surprise her, because she would have never let us do it,” Kryder said. “When she entered the room and I saw her smile, it was like the clouds moved away and the sun shined through.”
Kryder said the staff kept the celebration a secret and didn’t tell the residents until Thursday evening. The celebration was a surprise when Wortham was wheeled in on her wheelchair into the room.
“I didn’t have the slightest idea what was going on,” Wortham said. “It’s wonderful. I thought something was up when I saw Polk (Clark, her brother) here. I didn’t know what was going on when I saw family members I usually don’t see.”
From the moment Wortham entered the room, tears began to slide down her cheeks. Cotton and Polk Clark, her brothers, sat at one of two front row tables reserved for family members.
Wortham said she wished she could have attended college, but she made sure her children knew the importance of getting an education. Her two oldest sons attended college.
Wortham said she doesn’t hold a grudge for not being recognized as the valedictorian of her class.
“I didn’t worry about it,” Wortham said. “I knew I had the best grades in the class.”
Family members said Wortham was born double breech, a condition in which the baby comes out feet and hands first. They said it caused her to have walking and talking handicaps throughout her life.
Rowdy Wortham was one of the family members who said how proud he is of his mother and how much he loved her. Ray Cavett was married to Rosemary, Elizabeth’s oldest daughter, 33 years before Rosemary passed away. He talked about how much she meant to him.
“Every Sunday she would have a big meal ready for us,” Cavett said. “The highlight of the meal was her dinner rolls. In school they talk about Character Counts. She defines character. I couldn’t have a better mother-in-law if I picked her.”
Elizabeth Wortham received her valedictorian certificate 68 years after her high school graduation, less than two months ago Portales resident Alvin Fails finally received his Purple Heart 63 years after his military service for the United States during World War II.