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Students sing praises of South Whidbey ‘home’

LANGLEY — No matter where they go and who they become, the South Whidbey High School class of 2012 can always come home. And home will always be on Whidbey Island.

In a gym packed with friends and family at the high school, 127 South Whidbey graduates smiled, sang, laughed and gazed, seemingly awestruck, during the ceremony. The South Whidbey class of 2012 is headed all over the state and country in pursuit of its myriad passions such as music, biology, business, robotics, automotive mechanics, sports and creative writing.

“You are talented, you are risk takers,” said South Whidbey High School Principal John Patton.

“You are leaders, and you will change the world.”

For all the time spent talking about what lies ahead of the graduates, the safety of South Whidbey’s shores — home — was equally audible.

“Whatever path you choose, remember one thing: This is your home,” said Patton, who is finishing his first year as the principal after several years as an assistant principal at South Whidbey.

Home was so pervasive a topic, it became a bit obtuse, though no less galvanizing, when a group of grads sang a song entitled “Home.” A host of students clambered down from the stage and grabbed a saxophone, a piano, a guitar, a tambourine, a bass drum, a cello and microphones. Sung by Amy Arand, Zach Comfort, Dinah Hassrick, Sommer Harris, Sidney Hauser, Sam Lee, Will Mellish, Athena Michaelides and Jenny Zisette, the popular song by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros drew the remaining 120 grads to join in the chorus: “Home, let me come home. Home is wherever I’m with you.”

Comfort earlier in the ceremony recited a poem he wrote as the students’ choice speaker. He spoke about the speaker. He spoke about the wonders of adventure and the power of having a place like South Whidbey to call home.

“Futures aren’t started by fantasies, but footsteps,” he said.

“Let’s remember the Whidbey roads and the people who helped us get here today.”

In his closing remarks after the receiving of diplomas, Patton reminded the students to thank their parents.

“(Parents) are the reason the class of 2012 is on the stage right now,” he said, even as his pockets were packed with marshmallows, gum drops and other soft candy students had handed him as they shook his hand (a long-continued tradition).

Sommer Harris, one of five valedictorians for South Whidbey, urged her peers to embrace their curiosity and to choose a positive attitude.

“You always have a choice,” Harris said. “We have a choice about our attitude every day.”

“Keep alive your zest for life.”

While earlier speakers encouraged the experimentation and mistakes of young adulthood, one speaker reminded her classmates about the realities of the future. Holly Huey, another valedictorian, talked about the responsibility that accompanies graduating from high school.

“From this moment on, we will own every mistake, every compliment,” she said.

The final valedictorian speech came from the high school’s Associated Student Body president, Will Mellish. He reflected on how his class had matured from rowdy middle schoolers into school-spirit shouting Falcons.

“How many assemblies did we have (in middle school)? One. Why was that? Oh yeah, we got banned from them,” he said.

“There’s something about a childish enthusiasm that will serve us well.”

Home also meant a long distance to some students, among them Chris Penafiel, a South Whidbey resident since he was a student at Langley Middle School more than four years ago. His family is from the Philippines, which he represented by donning a lei made with flowers and folded dollar bills his father Carlos had made for him and a few of his childhood friends. There were also three foreign exchange students — Suttida Chinnawong, Judith Jaeger and Carol Jenkinson — who received honorary diplomas from South Whidbey.

South Whidbey’s schools superintendent stressed the meaning and importance of the diploma and graduating high school. Jo Moccia echoed life lessons like “be kind” and “change all the time” that she shared a couple of days earlier with the graduates of Bayview School.

“It is something that no one can ever take away from you,” she said.

“The most important learning that you do happens every day.”

Though she urged these former students to continue learning, they know where they began their educational journey: South Whidbey. Home.

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