A senior moment: BHS Class of 2002 is free

Michael Kushner’s diploma on high signals the senior’s joy at Saturday
Michael Kushner’s diploma on high signals the senior’s joy at Saturday's Bainbridge High School graduation.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

The sun, emerging at last, transformed the upturned mortarboards into a sparkling, nearly blinding expanse.

Family and friends seated in the stadium above the graduating seniors donned sunglasses, but didn’t stop cheering.

The headgear, customized by many of the seniors with glitter glue, metallic ribbons and other reflective materials, revealed other characteristics of the class of 2002 besides humor; the National Honor Society gold cords that meant students maintained a 3.6 grade point average dangled from nearly a quarter of the 289 mortarboards, while the class as a whole achieved a four-year grade point average of better than 3.1.

“Be proud of yourselves,” class speaker Nick Dewey said, “because not everyone has had the will to get this far...We have made it, our day has come.”

The long-anticipated day marked the completion of high school for the enthusiastic seniors who graduated from Bainbridge High Saturday evening in a crowded commencement ceremony at the football stadium.

Four years of completed studies was not the class of 2002’s only achievement.

Senior class president Zack Lewis listed some non-academic obstacles the seniors surmounted that included “relationships, hormonal imbalances, cracking voices, watchful parents and strict teachers.”

But class valedictorians Paulina Blackinton and Amanda Horike struck a serious note when they thanked those same parents, and the teachers seated in rows beside the podium, “for your love and support.”

It was a theme BHS principal Dave Ellick sounded again, asking students to “take a moment to think about that person who helped you get here today. It might be anyone – parent, community member, teacher.”

Teachers received collective thanks from students, who rose to an ovation as the instructors filed in.

BHS math teacher Dan McClean, was singled out for special thanks as “Teacher of the Year.” He accepted the honor with a mathematical come-back, pointing out that the class of 2002 is a palindrome – a distinction brought to his attention, he noted wryly, by graffiti painted on roads.

Secretary Mary Sue Silver was also recognized by the graduating class for poise under pressure and for the warm, personal attention she pays to students.

“She knows more student names than I could ever remember,” quipped one .

Instructors from other island schools observed the ceremony, including Blakely fourth-grade teacher Maureen Wilson. Wilson came, she said, not because she had a particular graduate in mind, but to honor the extraordinary class as a whole.

It was not only academic achievement but students’ response to world events that made the class of 2002 particularly memorable, teachers say.

A candelight vigil organized on campus in response to the events of Sept. 11 by Associated Student Body officers Eli Sperling, Matt Wight, Jeff Tracy and Simon Pollack , will long be remembered as a watershed event, Dewey and other speakers noted, one that marked a collective giant step forward in maturity.

“One of our saddest and fondest memories must surely be the vigil,” Dewey said. “We grew up then. It was the first time we were united as a school and as a community.”

The class of 2002 also scored record academic achievements, including many national merit acknowledgements, with 11 national merit finalists and 11 commended students.

Ellick lauded the group’s “remarkable accomplishments in athletics, fine arts, drama, debate and academics.”

All told, students received 227 awards and recognitions, including 75 scholarships from various civic organizations, schools and private donors.

“As you see from the list of scholarships,” Ellick said, “our school is blessed with remarkable support from this community.”

Nearly three-quarters of the class will attend a four-year college next fall, with 17 percent more headed to two-year schools or technical training.

Some students will attend colleges throughout Washington.

But others will leave home for out-of-state colleges, including; Princeton University in New Jersey; Carleton College in Minnesota; Vassar; Berkeley School of Music, Boston University, Smith College, Wellesly College and Williams College in Massachusetts; Duke University in North Carolina; Middlebury College in Vermont; Bowdin College and Colby College in Maine; University of Chicago and Northwestern University in Illinois; Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley and Cal Polytech in California; Hofstra University, Cornell University, Syracuse University, Skidmore College and New York University in New York; Reed College in Oregon; and University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

As the high school years close, new challenges appear, speakers told the young people. Despite high school accomplishments and awards, the graduates might find determining their futures something of an overwhelming prospect.

School board member Bruce Weiland, whose daughter Sarah was among the graduating seniors, told the class, “As you leave for the wider world, you’ll encounter people everywhere who seem to have it all together. But you need to believe these people are just as scared, just as insecure as you feel.”

Paraphrasing the book by 1970s icon Robert Pirsig, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” he noted that “every little task, no matter how monumental, can be broken down into steps.”

As students mounted the podium stairs to be handed the long-awaited diplomas from Weiland and fellow school board member Susan Sivitz, some parents peered through binoculars for a closer look at smiles that were visible from every vantage point in the stadium.

No student made the short stroll across the platform without cheers and applause from family and friends.

When all the students had a diploma in hand, the ceremony closed with a short class farewell by Blackinton and Horike:

“Seniors. You have graduated.”

Their words were nearly swept away by the rush, as the seniors tossed the reflective caps into the air and the high school band played the overture to “Marriage of Figaro” while families rushed down from the stands to reunite with students.

In the midst of all the tumult, senior Jacob Hayashi held still while his grandmother, Beverlyn Wing, tied a wreath around his head, and other family members bedecked him with garlands of flowers, and dollar bills folded into origami. Strings of small plastic bags contained, Wing said, rice balls with sushi, “so that he’ll never starve, so that he’ll always have money.”

Surveying the football field, now in happy disorder as three and even four generations linked arms to pose while a hundred camers clicked and whirred, Larry Dewey, whose son, Nick, had been a class speaker, summed up the day:

“We’re not only proud of our child. We’re proud of all the children that have come together for all these years.”

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