My assignment: Take photos of the Scriber Lake High School graduation. Easy enough, I thought.
It was a great day yesterday for photography: Sunny, temperatures in the upper 60s. Everyone was in their summer wear and summer glee: T-shirts, short sleeves and sun dresses matched with miles and miles of smiles.
I expected to see the usual pomp and circumstance. The processional, followed by the flag salute, followed by speeches, the handing out of diplomas, and culminating in the mortarboard toss in the air.
I was way off.
I was actually moved and even shed tears.
My kids have long ago graduated, and I hadn’t been to many recent graduations. This was the first inkling of how times have changed: A student took to the podium to give honor and a moment of silence to Indigenous Americans. The Snohomish, Tulalip, and other coastal Salish tribes used to inhabit the land we stood on. What a great sign of respect.
The 53 students who were ending their high school careers sat to the right of the field, the school board and faculty members to the left. There were no bands or choirs. But the speeches by the speakers were music enough.
The five class speakers all did an excellent job. There were the funny moments in their speeches. What hit me the most were the heartfelt messages they conveyed.
Class Speaker Fiona Hyatt gave a rousing last message that sent the audience cheering:
“To close out with a few fitting lines from Snoop Dogg: Last but not least, I want to thank me. I want to thank me for believing in me. I want to thank me for doing all this hard work I want to thank me for having no day off. I want to thank me for never quitting. I want to thank me for always being a giver and trying to give more than I received. I want to thank me for trying to do more right than wrong. And I want to thank me for just being me at all times.”
She said it with such conviction and power no other seasoned orator could match.
When it was time for class speaker Olive Burk-Poole to nervously take center stage, I just put my camera down and listened. And tried to wipe the tears streaming down my cheeks without being noticed. Why didn’t I bring tissue?
“This isn’t my first graduation,” she started. “My first graduation was when I was just in preschool. The second graduation was in sixth grade, the day after my mom had passed away. My third graduation was for completing rehab. And now, this is my fourth graduation. To think about all the ceremonies and how different my life was during each time gives me the strength, strength to stand here and speak.
“I’m so grateful for the people who stayed in my life. They give me the strength and bravery to stand here and say: ‘I made it. I MADE IT!’
“I’m grateful to the teachers at this school who listened to me and cared…
“…and most of all: Thank you, Dad, for believing in me. For all these years, and for being the biggest support I’ve had in my life, even though I used to take advantage of your trust and love. Thank you for getting me the help I needed.
“And finally, thank you, everybody. For being here and watching a huge—perhaps unimaginable—event for all of us.”
Words that came to mind all evening for me: Resiliency, courage, persistence, uniqueness, strength. All encompassed the meaning of Scriber Lake High. Although I had no kids graduating tonight, I cared for these grads as if they were my own.
When the ceremony came to an end, it was surprising to not see the traditional toss of the mortarboards high into the air. The students quietly walked off the field. But a hat toss would only be following the status quo. These young adults have followed the beat of their own drums for so long. Doing it their own way was fitting.
— Story and photos by David Carlos