Hartman first recipient of new scholarship as Garretts honor, thank Class of 23
The concern was legitimate.
Would her classmates accept her?
Are the other kids going to want to play with her on the playground?
The fear was real.
Will she be invited to other kids’ birthday parties?
Will she ever develop a genuine friendship?
The unanswered questions were daunting.
Is her life going to be an experience of a life well-lived?
The answers came quickly, they came often and they’ve never stopped.
Each one has a been a resounding “YES!”
On Monday night during the Kingfisher High School senior awards ceremony, Emily Garrett announced the “84 and Me Class of ’23 Kindness Initiative” to the crowd that packed into the APB.
The initiative will be implemented throughout the school district in the coming years, but includes something more.
Part of the initiative will be an annual $1,000 “Kindness Matters Scholarship” presented to a deserving senior at KHS.
“It will be based strictly on character and how they treat others,” said Sara Garrett.
Sara and Greg Garrett were the ones with so many questions as Gretchen, their second of three daughters, was growing up.
The concerns exist within all parents as their children prepare for school, but perhaps the Garretts had cause for extra worry.
Gretchen was born with Down syndrome.
In certain ways, she was different.
But as it turned out, she was just another kid in the Class of 2023.
Laurie Hagar taught Gretchen and several of her classmates in pre-kindergarten.
“I knew in pre-k that she was destined to be a high school cheerleader,” Hagar said during a tribute video at Monday’s presentation.
She was right. In fact, Gretchen has been cheering on Kingfisher teams since the seventh grade.
But Hagar saw something else. She saw a group of classmates who, from the very first day, made sure Gretchen was included.
“The senior class this year is very near and dear to my heart,” Hagar said. “I have a lot of fond memories, especially the tribe that came together and loved Gretchen and showed so much kindness to each other and Gretchen as well.
“It’s such a beautiful thing to see such kindness in kids that continued from pre-k all the way to their senior year.”
Keith Campbell was Kingfisher Middle School’s principal for the entirety of the Class of 2023’s four-year stretch in that building.
“Everyone knows how difficult middle school is,” said Campbell, now the superintendent at Balko.
Only for Gretchen, it wasn’t any more difficult than for everyone else.
“The only thing that made Gretchen stand out was she was always talking in the halls and being the last one to class!” Campbell recalled.
Inclusion was a big part of that group of classmates.
“They were absolutely fantastic when it came to including Gretchen or lending her a hand,” Campbell said.
She didn’t often need that hand. Sometimes she forced it.
“Make no mistake…if Gretchen was not included, she would make herself included!” Campbell added.
As for her parents’ concerns of acceptance?
“I hope Gretchen felt just like any other student,” Campbell said. “I honestly can’t remember a time that I dealt with a situation of someone picking on or being mean to Gretchen.
“I’m sure there were instances, but I think most of the time, other students stepped in and stood up for - or took care of - Gretchen.
“The character, integrity and kindness of those classmates of Gretchen’s is unmatched.”
While teachers and administrators and so many others saw classmates being there for Gretchen, they also saw Gretchen – or Gretch if you know her well enough – doing much the same.
“Gretchen is such a bright light to anyone she’s around and there are no bad days when Gretch is there,” said Megan (Thormodsgard) Mueggenborg, Kingfisher FFA’s co-adviser.
Gretchen has been heavily active in FFA throughout her tenure at school and earned the role of student adviser.
“She is quick to offer a hug and positive encouragement to anyone who needs it and she never misses an opportunity to joke with her friends to make them smile,” Mueggenborg continued.
And, she added, don’t cross Gretchen’s friends.
“Gretchen is a fierce defender to anyone who needs it and is most passionate about her friendships,” she said. “The people in Gretchen’s life are so much better for knowing her because she has taught all of us what true, unconditional kindness is.”
Kyle Borelli is one of those classmates who’s been with Gretchen through all 13 years of school.
“You know, Gretch has always been the sweetest person to be around,” Borelli said.
Beginning in seventh grade, when Borelli was playing football, Gretchen was right there on the sidelines cheering. He called her his “biggest supporter” and his favorite person to talk to during games.
“She’d be there for a quick high five or I’d be over there to get excited with her for the big plays,” he said. “And she’d be there for me when I was sulking on a bad play.”
The sulking didn’t last long.
“In my opinion, it’s really hard to be in a bad mood around her because she’s there to just brighten your spirits up in any situation.”
Although Gretchen made Borelli feel special, he wasn’t necessarily unique.
“I think everyone in my class could say the same about her being a bright light,” he said. “And to say she was just my supporter wouldn’t be true because she makes it her own mission to support everyone.
“She’s the closest best friend that anyone can ask for.”
When it comes to accomplished Kingfisher High School seniors, Maddox Mecklenburg is right at the top of the list.
He won multiple state basketball championships during his career as well as two academic state titles.
He's a class valedictorian who was able to garner some of the most select scholarships one can attain at Oklahoma State University.
A leader on the court and in the classroom, Mecklenburg is one of the big reasons many consider this Class of 2023 so special at KHS.
To him, Gretchen is every bit the reason as well.
"Our friendship will always be special to me. We've been great friends ever since we were little and she has been nothing but a blessing to everyone in our class," he said.
"No matter how things are going, she always keeps a smile on her face and brightens everyone's day."
Like many others, Mecklenburg never wondered "What can Gretchen do?" It was more like "What CAN'T she do?"
"She's always had the attitude that she can do anything and she knew that she would have the support of everyone in our class in whatever it was that she was doing," he said.
That included the night Gretchen planned to ask Mecklenburg to the Sadie Hawkins Dance after a football game. Word had spread that Gretchen had her plan in place, complete with a sign that read: "Will you be the Peter Pan to my Tinker Bell and go to Sadies w/me?"
The word got to Mecklenburg.
"Are you going to say 'yes'?"
"Of course I am," he said.
And of course he did.
Gretchen's love and support of her classmates was unconditional and it was also mutual.
"Gretchen has done nothing but show everyone love, so it was our job to show the same back to her," Mecklenburg said.
"It was always important to all of us to make sure that Gretchen was treated the same as we were because she deserved nothing less."
Ivy Hartman is THE All-American girl.
She’s a KHS Class of 2023 valedictorian, FFA chapter president, cheer captain, has countless honors and awards on her high school resume and she’s going to study biochemistry and molecular biology at Oklahoma State University.
Ivy Hartman could have her pick when it comes to best friends.
“Gretchen Garrett is my best friend in the whole world,” Hartman said.
Ask anyone who knows them and they’ll tell you about the bond the two share.
“They get along more like siblings than friends,” said Carma Reagan, Kingfisher’s cheer coach for the last three years.
“I know they both have multiple siblings whom they love, but there is just a connection between those two that is so special.”
The laughs. The TikTok videos. The Sonic trips. The arguments and disagreements, “which is usually funny,” Reagan said. And just hanging out.
“It’s just all the things high school kids do…except the difference with these two girls is they do it with so much love, acceptance, grace and kindness toward one another,” Reagan said.
A fierce competitor, it was Gretchen who gave her fellow cheerleaders their pregame speeches before competitions.
She’d often get emotional enough during those speeches that it brought her to tears.
“Guess who Gretchen wants to stand by her and help her through it?” said Reagan. “Ivy Hartman!”
Reagan calls their friendship refreshing to see the two sharing the bond they have at this stage in life.
“They have both made an impression on my heart that I will never forget,” Reagan said.
What’s the glue that holds the two together?
“I have never met anyone who shares my extreme love of Taylor Swift and vanilla Dr. Pepper in the same way that Gretchen does,” Hartman said. “I love our many Sonic and Braum’s trips and our daily morning scream sessions to Taylor Swift music in the school parking lot.”
And she loves Gretchen for the person she is.
“She makes me a better person each and every day. She always knows how to make me laugh and bring a smile to my face when I’m having a rough day,” Hartman said.
“She has a heart of gold and always makes those around her happy and feel loved.”
The two, said Mueggenborg, have a bond built on admirable characteristics.
“Their positivity, integrity, honesty, compassion and selflessness are just a few of the many admirable traits they share that makes them such an impressive duo,” she said.
The duo won’t be separated.
When Hartman heads to Stillwater in the fall, she won’t be leaving her best friend behind.
Gretchen, too, will be a freshman at OSU when classes start.
She’ll be a part of Opportunity Orange Scholars, a program designed for young adults with intellectual disability.
Students who take part can pursue a four-year, non-degree academic certificate in career and community studies.
Gretchen will live on campus…just like everyone else.
But it wasn’t given to her. She had to go through an application process and then an in-person interview before being accepted.
“I think Ivy may have been more nervous than Gretchen was while awaiting her acceptance into OSU,” Reagan recalled.
Hartman made sure she was with Gretchen when she got the news.
“I will never forget sitting in my car with Gretch when she received the call that she got into OSU,” Hartman said. “We celebrated and cried happy tears and Facetimed every person she knows to share the good news.”
Then, just like many of her other classmates, Gretchen had a signing day ceremony.
Her entire class was there to share the experience.
And it’s that class - the KHS Class of 2023 - that prompted Greg and Sara Garrett to think about ways of saying “thank you.”
The initiative was born from those thoughts and so was the annual scholarship.
Emily Garrett told the Monday night crowd of the reasons behind the scholarship.
“Thirteen years ago, 84 precious, innocent and genuine pre-schoolers had no idea the difference they were about to make in this little girl’s life,” she said. “Each and every one of them chose kindness.
“This one small act set the tone for this incredible journey and for 13 years they have all continued to choose kindness every single day.”
The kindness reassured Greg and Sara. Emily didn’t have to worry about her little sister when she graduated and left for college. Natalie, the youngest of the Garretts, didn’t have to serve as a protector of big sister.
“To our family, your kindness outshines all your other accomplishments,” Emily continued, reading for her entire family.
“You were an example of how people should be treated, how she should be treated and you accepted nothing less. People noticed. We noticed. We saw it all.
“This community and our family watched a special little girl find not one, not two, but 84 true genuine friends.
“These friendships have given our family a sense of peace knowing that she walks the halls of KHS loved, protected and included.
“The price of knowing our daughter was protected could never be repaid.
“And the countless times we felt reassured through witnessing your kindness will be forever etched in our hearts.”
But the Garrett family does want to offer some form of repayment, hence the scholarship.
“We would have loved to give each and every one of you this award and so many of you will hold a special place in our hearts,” Emily said.
The first recipient was none other than Ivy Hartman.
“I’m telling you, she has a heart of gold and loves Gretchen so big,” Reagan said. “No one could be more deserving of this honor than Ivy Rae Hartman.”
In the future, a committee of peers will select the winner.
“We’re hoping this trickles down and feeds positivity back into the school,” Sara said.
Winners will have their names etched on a plaque that will hang on the KHS walls “as a reminder to all students the impact the 84 of you made by showing kindness.”
Others will have the task in the future, but it was the Garrett family who selected the first recipient.
Hartman may have been a Godsend for the Garretts, but maybe Gretchen was just that for Ivy Hartman.
“Gretchen Garrett truly is a gift from God,” she said. “And I’m so blessed to call her my best friend since pre-k.”
Though Hartman was the winner, she was merely a microcosm of her entire graduating class, say the Garretts.
As Emily put it in the tribute video: “Thank you for giving us all a front row seat to the most amazing 13 years. Thank you for taking away our worries and fears. Thank you for being a true, genuine friend.
“Thank you for choosing kindness.”