Just as they were taught the first time in kindergarten so many years ago, South Kitsap High School’s Class of 2016 graduates did what has become second nature: They got in line.
But this final time, these seniors prepared to walk across the stage at the Tacoma Dome June 14 to receive their high school diplomas.
But before crossing that symbolic threshold, the teenagers — 536 of them — donned their caps and gowns, took photos, gave hugs and shared special memories between friends. Theirs were friendships bonded in class, on sports fields and at school dances and proms — and imprinted in their young memories. A slide show of photos and videos submitted by students projected onto a large screen for students and their families to watch as the graduates marched to pick up their diplomas.
Sarah Lenza, who graduated fifth in her class, sported an honorary distinction chord from her cap for achieving excellence in a specific subject. Like other graduates standing before their peers and family members, Lenza shared that certain, almost undefinable feeling as she awaited taking her walk to the stage.
“It’s crazy, but it’s a satisfying feeling. I did it!” she said. And in what subject matter was Lenza honored for her work? “I’m not sure which subject it’s from, but I’m kind of hoping it’s PE,” she joked with her friends.
Despite the rush-hour traffic on I-5 next to the Tacoma Dome, the students and their families wouldn’t miss this event, traffic backups or not. Safely ensconced inside the massive building, the students and families festooned the hall with banners, leis and bouquets. And when the graduates began their procession to the stage, cheers, screams and applause rolled over the audience.
South Kitsap High principal Jerry Holsten welcomed those in attendance and congratulated the graduates’ accomplishments. He introduced Kylee Lowery, a senior who also participated in the “Tunnel of Success” at South Colby Elementary earlier in the week. The new event features a celebratory walk by the graduates through the school as an example to the young students of the academic success that they can aspire to.
“Adulthood is looming like a big rock in front of us,” Lowery said prior to her recognizing the classmates that have passed on prior to graduation. She spoke of lessons her father taught her, then ended her remarks with one last piece of advice: “Make your mark.”
Student Alec Matala then performed an acoustic version of “Somewhere Only We Know” before introducing ASB vice president Josie Williams.
“Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time, we grew side by side. Our roots will always be tangled,” she said, quoting Ally Condie.
“This isn’t an ending, but our new starting point. We will always be connected by our roots.”
Afterward, Destiny Triplett performed Andra Day’s “Rise Up” before Holsten and Michelle Reid, district superintendent, accepted the graduating class and presented each student with their diploma.
Reid told the graduates that the most important lesson she could leave the class was “to be present for each other.”
Reid said: “There’s a poem called ‘The Dash’ and it refers to the dash between dates of when we are born and when we die. What matters is how we live and love, and how we spend our dash.
“I see the future of our community and our nation in these faces.”
As the graduates walked across the stage, they in turns hugged their teachers, shook hands with Holsten, took selfies with their 535 classmates in the background. After receiving their diplomas, the ceremony quickly turned into a celebration with parents, family and friends cheering as their loved one’s names were called.
Lenza summed up her feelings about reaching the milestone — with 535 of her friends.
“It’s an honor to graduate and have my family here and appreciate all they’ve done for me,” she said.
“It feels like we did it, so let’s celebrate. We did the whole thing together and have closed this chapter to start a new one.”