Oh… the places they will go

More than $100,000 in scholarships were awarded to the graduating class of Friday Harbor High and Griffin Bay school during commencement this past weekend in Friday Harbor.

True to form, hundreds of islanders gathered in Turnbull Gym to celebrate the graduation of 48 students from Friday Harbor High School on Saturday.

Much of the ceremony followed tradition. The high school band played “Pomp and Circumstance” as the graduates marched to the stage. Pictures of the graduates growing up were shown in a slideshow- reminders of how fleeting time can be. Jim McNairy documented “The History” of the class- starting with the 32 five-year-olds that entered kindergarden together, and ending only when all 48 seniors were standing up, united as the graduating class of 2009.

However, there was much that made this graduation unique. This was an idea Pablo Lopez, the class’s salutatorian, tackled in his speech, “Spontaneity.”

“What sets us, the class of 2009, apart from the rest of the classes that have graduated from this school?” he asked.

The answer came in the form of music, as the class broke into a rendition of “The Hey Song,” clapping their hands and stomping their feet in unison. Lopez explained that his senior analytical writing class began rocking out to the song one day in class, and he was struck by his class’s ability to do the unexpected and be spontaneous.

Brooke Jangard took on a different theme in her speech, “The Island’s Gifts.” Jangard was inspired by the natural beauty of San Juan Island and how the “seemingly insignificant moments” of daily life growing up here have meant the most. She encouraged the class to take time to enjoy their surroundings and remember the “one of a kind smell of False Bay at low tide” and the “stunning, rich sunsets on the West Side.”

The class’s valedictorian, Albert Strasser, offered the class of 2009 an “easy, five step instruction manual for happiness”. Recognizing that advice often sounds cliche, Strasser used humor to remind the class how the simplest, most basic things like smiling and believing in yourself often have the greatest impact.

Over $100,000 in scholarship money was presented to the graduates by the community. The San Juan Community Foundation presented $10,000 to Austin Scheffer and Albert Strasser, and $5,000 to Jordan Nash and Conner Johns. The foundation also designated an additional $10,000 to Erik Wells, a 2008 graduate, who was a recipient last year.

Fred Yockers honored “two of the best Pinks,” Joyce King and Alaina Schultz with the Ryan Smith Performing Arts Award, for their exemplary performances in various drama productions and especially as the Pink Ladies in this year’s performance of the musical “Grease”.

Nine students qualified for a Dollars for Scholars San Juan Island Foundation scholarship. To qualify for the $1,000 scholarship, each recipient completed 80 hours of community service. Two students, Pablo Lopez and Bonnie Schmidt, were singled out for going beyond that requirement. Schmidt did 130 hours of community service and Lopez completed 124 hours.

An especially poignant moment was when four of the graduates were honored with the newly-created Patti Benz and Pete Bostrom Memorial Scholarship. Zach Hays, Eddie Nash, Alaina Schultz, and Mike Short were celebrated for their strength and courage in dealing with the loss of a parent.

Superintendent Michael Soltman, who is leaving this year, was also recognized for his seven-year commitment to the San Juan Island School District.

Griffin Bay, “Nothing but Blue Skies”

More than a few tears were shed as eight graduates of Griffin Bay High School accepted their hard-earned diplomas on Sunday. Paola Alejos, Tucker Andersen, Danny Armon, Dennie Armour, Elton Blackburn, Kate Hunter, Becca Laursen, Paul St. Marie, and Kerry Sharlette (not present at the ceremony), received their diplomas at an intimate gathering of family and friends in the Friday Harbor Middle School commons.

The commencement ceremony began with a prelude by Andersen on the acoustic guitar and Hunter on vocals, singing Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.”

The graduates were then honored individually for their accomplishments and spoke briefly about their experiences with Griffin Bay High School and plans for the future. Teacher Kim Norton, who was unable to attend the graduation for health reasons, had picked out words to describe each of the seniors, along with the help of Barbara Bevens and Betsy Ridwan. St. Marie was described as a “practical dreamer,” while Alejos was extolled for her “gentle and positive spirit.” The teachers told Blackburn the letter “e” suits him. “You are exuberant; you bound into a room with unbridled enthusiasm. You put others at ease.”

The graduates spoke of their gratitude about Griffin Bay and the learning experience that it offers. Armon described himself as a “one on one” learner, a need that the small setting of Griffin Bay fulfilled. Armour said simply, “I wouldn’t have graduated without this school.”

In his commencement address, Superintendent Michael Soltman described Griffin Bay as a school built upon “optimism and possibility.” He thanked the “father of Griffin Bay,” Jack McKenna, and encouraged the graduates to make a contribution to society and “smile everyday.”

Two graduates were presented with scholarships. Laursen was awarded two $1000 scholarships to attend the Gene Juaraz Academy for cosmetology and Hunter was honored by Michael Henderson of the Friday Harbor Fire Department for her contribution as a firefighter.

As the diplomas were conferred, Alejos’s chosen quote that appeared in the commencement program seemed especially timely: “It’s not what if, it’s what now.” As each of these new graduates ask themselves “what now?”, it’s clear there will be a supportive community behind them, eager to hear about their future academic accomplishments and personal successes.