You can find fame, Bainbridge High Principal Jake Haley told the graduating Class of 2014, but don’t always expect to come out smelling like a rose.
Bainbridge celebrated its newly minted graduates from Bainbridge and Eagle Harbor high schools at a commencement ceremony Saturday filled with plenty of laughs, a few tears, humongous hugs and the unmitigated pride of family, friends and parents.
All told, 323 students earned diplomas as Bainbridge bid farewell to a great group of truly talented teens.
Bainbridge High also said goodbye to Haley, the school’s principal for the past year and also a former BHS student, teacher and coach. Haley is leaving the Bainbridge Island School District after 28 years to take a principal’s job in California.
“This is an amazing class of leaders, musicians, scholars, athletes and so much more,” Haley said.
From its five valedictorians, he said, to the five seniors who could not be at commencement because they were in California competing in the US Rowing Junior Nationals Championships, to two National Merit finalists, 122 National Honor Society members, 124 Washington Honors Awards recipients (or 36 percent of the class in the state’s top 10 percent of graduates), and eight students who will also simultaneously graduate with associate of arts degrees.
Haley noted that people’s pasts define their future, and he recalled a kindergarten moment and his first chance at greatness.
“It was the moment I had been dreaming of: I got called up to the third-grade game of kick the can in David Cooper’s yard in Port Madison,” Haley said.
“This was my moment, and I was 75 yards away from the can that I needed to kick. And I could see the captured people in the hose that we had put around in a circle; I was going to free them and be the hero.”
Haley recalled making it to the last tree, and then seeing a concrete slab not far away that would be the perfect spot for hiding before his final assault.
There was a patch of dirt behind the slab; but no problem, he thought as he ran and jumped over the concrete barrier.
“Unfortunately, there was no dirt,” Haley said, recalling his grim discovery that he had jumped into an uncovered septic tank.
The audience let out a collective moan.
“Thirty-three years later, Port Madison still talks about when Jake Haley went in for a swim in the septic,” Haley said.
Saturday’s graduation ceremonies was a day that recalled many lessons learned.
Graduating senior and class speaker Sallie Marx broke it down by the numbers for her classmates and the large crowd gathered for commencement at the BHS Memorial Stadium.
“By mathematical definition, 13 is a happy number, yet it is considered unlucky. At age 13, we became teenagers. Fifteen: the atomic number for phosphorus, the element essential for life, that also has the potential to test its limits. And at age 15, we began driving,” Marx said.
“And then, there’s 14. Well, Class of 2014, here we are, stuck somewhere in the middle. Caught in the belief that we have our futures all planned out, and the reality that we really have no idea what’s coming next,” she said.
Marx passed along some advice to the students the seniors were leaving behind. She admitted she had always been obsessed with another number: 4.0.
“I lost my perfect GPA the first semester of senior year. But my biggest regret is not in a lack of studying or coming up short, but in the obliviousness I had along each step,” she said.
The destination, she said, was not as important as the journey to get there.
Marx recalled the words of her late grandmother Phyllis: “Our founding fathers got it wrong. Life should not be lived in the pursuit of happiness. Or the pursuit of love, or the pursuit of perfect grades. Life should be about the love in pursuing; the happiness of pursuit. Finding the little moments along the way that make up the journey rather than the destination itself,” she said.
The talents of Bainbridge’s Class of 2014 were on full display Saturday, with impressive performances by Olivia Moeller, who sang the White Stripes’ “We’re Going To Be Friends” on unaccompanied guitar, and Sophia Stoyanovich, who played “Souvenir d’Amerique Op. 17” by Henri Vieuxtemps on violin. Stoyanovich’s masterful rendition was a stunning show stopper, and prompted the first hearty standing ovation from the entire stadium.
There were tender moments, as well.
Graduating senior Nick Mooney recalled how the Class of 2014 came together in their final year at BHS.
“We, as humans, tend to be restrictive with the love we share. By love, I mean even simple manifestations of human kindness,” Mooney said.
“We tend to think that some people aren’t worth our love, or at least, we approach situations with that thought in mind. We are possessive of our compassion and treat it like a finite commodity,” he said.
Mooney recalled how his fellow Spartans overcame that human type of hardwiring.
“I don’t know where the turning point was for our class, but I think the catalyst may have been the period of several late nights on Facebook, finding all of our friends most embarrassing middle school statuses and pictures and dredging them up to the surface. I think we all walked away from that with smiles on our faces, taking ourselves a little bit less seriously,” Mooney said.
“The change was this: We lowered our barriers, and started talking to new people. And most importantly, we gave each other the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “As a class, we began assuming absolute best intentions. This year, I have had the privilege of making friends with those who I had previously barely spoken to, and they received me with open arms.”
That experience inspired his most important advice for his younger classmates.
“Love those around you, because they deserve it and everyone benefits,” Mooney said.