A tale of two (or three) graduations unfolded in North Kitsap over the weekend.
North Kitsap High School and Kingston High School Class of 2021 were able to celebrate their accomplishment in semi-normal fashion with traditional graduation ceremonies, though each with its own style, flair and mishaps.
NKHS held two ceremonies June 11 to accommodate all the graduates and their guests safely per COVID-19 safety guidelines from the state.
KHS held a singular ceremony June 12, though at NK Stadium, again accommodating for guests and protocols.
Among NKHS Class of 2021, five young women earned the honor of valedictorian and another was named salutatorian. Maeve Bottoms, Katie Stuart, Megan Turner and Grace Zinkhon spoke at the first graduation with Emily Grant and salutatorian Keelyn Taylor speaking at the second.
Each speech held gems of wisdom, hilarity, sarcasm and hopefulness.
Bottoms recounted the unique looks into students’ home lives through Zoom classes, how the “free time” in hybrid learning was used, but most of all encouraged her fellow graduates to embrace the weird that has been the last year.
“Over this past year, we all have become just a little bit weird. But that doesn’t mean we should ever let this weirdness hold us back. I’m embracing my weird! Look, I’ve changed, you’ve changed but I’ve earned this weird. We’ve earned this weird! So many people are pining over the past and are desperate to get back to normal, well we’ve become too weird for that…I want to put my weird to use,” Bottoms said.
Stuart recognized that while the class weathered the pandemic storm together, some were doing it on yachts, while others were on dinghies and rafts. She recognized that there were inequities and that some students struggled more than others for a variety of reasons.
“Maybe we’re in the same storm, but were going through it in completely different boats–The idea that I’m trying to get at is sure we shared a lot of the same experiences and learned and grew a lot together in this past year, but the ways that we got through this year were totally different. Lumping everyone’s experiences of this past year into the one boat ignores a lot of the struggles and inequities that we face as individuals–Acknowledging that we all had different boats allows us to recognize these things, it allows us to accept that some of us had an easier time of it than others,” Stuart said.
Turner recognized the work of the district custodians, without whom the students would not have been able to return to the hallowed halls of NKHS for their final year.
“Our high school experience was made up of little moments that I guarantee everyone has forgotten about…Try and recall these insignificant times. Events that get lost in the ins and out of daily life, overshadowed by the show stoppers. Remember the conversations you had with people you didn’t normally talk to on your way to your least favorite class…remember all of the things you have forgotten,” Turner said.
Zinkhon laid out three points for her fellow graduates to remember. First, to both hold on to and let go of high school, noting that things that seemed important four years ago, or even a year ago, are not as important now. Second, appreciate graduation day and the accomplishments that led to it, and finally that the Class of 2021 is capable of more than they think.
“Our time in high school has been exciting and challenging and I believe the particular challenges the Class of 2021 have faced, have in the long run have prepared us for making difficult life decisions better than any graduating class, thus far,” Zinkhon said.
During the second NKHS graduation ceremony, Taylor challenged her fellow graduates to take the dive of author Peter Fisk and, “Plant trees that you will never see,” encouraging them to thank the teachers and people that have shaped who they are today without expecting anything in return and to do the same for future generations.
Finally, Grant spoke about the passage of time in high school and encouraged her fellow graduates to live in the moment.
In both ceremonies, Principal Megan Sawicki talked about joy, recognizing that this class could teach others about resiliency. Sawicki noted there are studies being done on the physical and mental health impacts of “choosing joy” as well as the impacts joy can have on work environments.
“My wish for you Class of 2021 is to live a life full of joy. Smell the roses, seek out rainbows, dance with wild abandon…maybe in the rain, create something beautiful, laugh loudly and often, and allow yourself to pause in the midst of all the serious bits of life and enjoy all the wonder that life has to offer,” Sawicki said.
On June 12, KHS principal Jack Simonson noted that this year KHS has had multiple athletic victories over NKHS so being on their field in celebration was nothing new. “How about when the tennis, soccer and boys basketball teams all beat North this year and the girls basketball team shrugged their shoulders and said we’ll do it twice,” Simonson said.
Simonson also noted that the land in which the field sits on is the ancestral home of the Suquamish Tribe and the land in which KHS sits on is the ancestral home of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.
Simonson also provided the graduates two pieces of advice. “First we’re not really ever in control. It’s a hard thing to learn in life. It’s a lesson we all get reminded of at some point, and yet some still don’t seem to learn. I think we got reminded of that at least 100 times this year, thank you COVID. My second piece of advice is this, we never really know the future, and bad things will happen, but that doesn’t mean we can’t turn whatever happens into something good – even great.”
The salutatorian and valedictorian for KHS were Emily Ramirez and Thomas Brown.
Ramirez took the KHS Class of 2021 on a stroll down memory lane from elementary school to graduation day.
“Now is usually the time that I am supposed to say that the key to success is individuality, but seeing that we are all here wearing the same wizard gowns and hats, I feel that, that sentiment is a little ironic. Instead, I would like to say that if you look back on this time decades from now and see the last four years as the best years of your life then you are doing something wrong. Life is supposed to be an adventure. High school was an adventure, but it certainly isn’t the greatest one out there. I have no idea what the adult world is like any more than you so the best advice I can give is just go for it,” Ramirez said.
Brown used his knowledge of hiking and the mountains to round out his speech.
“I have learned to appreciate those who have gone before me. Without trail builders many places I enjoy would be nearly inaccessible…We are only here celebrating at this stadium because of those who have gone before us. Many plan to go to college next fall. We have worked hard in our classes and have been accepted to those various colleges, but without the efforts of others we wouldn’t even have colleges to attend.”