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Class of '08 graduates from South Whidbey High

Kayley Mulcahy and Eva Denka share a hug before the graduation ceremony Saturday at South Whidbey High School. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Kayley Mulcahy and Eva Denka share a hug before the graduation ceremony Saturday at South Whidbey High School.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

LANGLEY — At the start of his graduation speech Saturday, South Whidbey High School senior Wyatt Jarvis realized there was something he had to do.

Standing at the podium, Jarvis searched the packed gym until he found his man.

He called for a classmate, a close friend who hadn’t quite finished his graduation requirements, to come down for a hug right in front of the hundreds gathered to say goodbye to the class of 2008.

It was a gracious, heartfelt and emotional moment.

It was just the first lump-in-the-throat moment, however.

Jarvis described how the death of his father prompted him to move back to the island from Everett, despite ferry hassles and concerns over acceptance.

“You taught me it was OK to be me,” he said.

“As we head out on our separate paths today, remember whatever we do will have a ripple effect around the world and we have to make the ripples count.”

Principal Rob Prosch cited examples of ways the Class of 2008 had excelled beyond expectations. There were plenty to choose from: the success of the sport teams, the jazz band’s preeminence, the drama program’s resurgence and the thousands of hours spent in community service by graduates.

“Academically, 68 of our grads had a grade point average in excess of 3.2 resulting in a record $290,000 in scholarships awarded,” Prosch added.

“Sometimes it takes courage to keep moving forward and this class showed it had plenty. My own daughter graduated last week at my former school and the one regret I have is that she couldn’t have been in this class.”

Several speakers noted that school spirit came alive with this class, citing the “Birds of Prey” club that was designed to galvanize students on campus. Organized by seniors Steven Gabelein and CJ Baker, it worked beyond their wildest expectations.

District Superintendent Fred McCarthy noted that the whole community was inspired by the Birds of Prey and the successful 8-2 season enjoyed by the football team in the fall.

“The best record since 1992,” he said.

McCarthy added the jazz ensemble’s presence at the Essentially Ellington competition in New York City was one of the year’s high points, and one clue as to why South Whidbey was one of three Washington schools given the Blue Ribbon award for excellence in Washington, D.C.

“All of you truly have the potential for fulfilling your dreams, and ours,” McCarthy told the graduates.

Class choice speaker Darren Britton recalled the simple pleasures of growing up on the island.

In his first football game, the team lost 56-6 and last fall’s Falcon triumph was all the sweeter.

“Guys, this was the best year of my life — the team won, I got a girlfriend and we’re graduating,” he said. “Never forget your roots; as you find a cure for cancer or make big bucks, always remember how good I looked.”

Symbolizing the talented class, Natalie Groce sang a haunting version of “If We Hold On Together,” accompanied by Grace Itaya on piano and Jeff Potter and Bridget Scott performed “Boats and Birds” by Gregory and the Hawk.

Salutatorian Dylan Fate classified certain definable aspects of his fellow grads, using a recent Washington Mutual television commercial as his guide.

“First, there’s ‘Life’s a Stage Girl,’ tripping through the halls brushing up on her lines,” he said.

Fate noted the “Island Coffeehouse drinker,” easygoing yet somehow slightly wired, and the “Too Big a Backpack Girl,” whose course load was as heavy as the pack she carried.

“And, of course, the Bird of Prey-crazed superfan with the painted face and hoarse voice. Each contributed in his or her way and helped to shape us as the class of 2008,” Fate said.

“Wherever life takes you, you’ll always be one of us.”

Valedictorian Erica Johnson noted she had no doubts that some of her fellow grads would find themselves saving lives by working in hospitals, teaching kids the values they themselves learned as Falcons, or entertaining thousands with the talents that were nurtured at South Whidbey.

The underlying theme of the commencement was that the class succeeded on so many levels — academically, artistically, athletically and spiritually.

Perhaps the most emotional speech came from Itaya.

“Originally, I didn’t plan on going to this school,” she said. “But I was presented with an explosion of adventures and social relationships that overwhelmed me. As the years passed I was embraced by you and the more I know this class, the harder it is to leave.”

As the 129 young men and women celebrated ending one journey and embarking on another, Itaya told them, “We are the real deal and we will be the role model for classes to come after us. We’re a tight class, individually talented, that came together to create something greater than its parts.

“We can’t limit ourselves or hold ourselves back because we don’t believe we can do it. We have and we will,” she said.

With that, diplomas were handed out by district officials and the class was serenaded by the jazz ensemble’s version of “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”

Later there were hugs, tears, laughter and relief that it was all over.

Watching his son Levi say goodbye to his friends, John Sawyers said he was sorry the former Falcon running back wouldn’t be playing football at Washington State University in the fall.

“He decided he wanted to study architecture,” he said. “He’s going his own way and that’s exactly what he should do.”

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