Traditions live on with South Whidbey Academy grads

Norah Helley hugs Charlene Ray, her advocate at South Whidbey Academy and a former Bayview School counselor, during graduation June 17 at Thomas Berry Hall.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Norah Helley hugs Charlene Ray, her advocate at South Whidbey Academy and a former Bayview School counselor, during graduation June 17 at Thomas Berry Hall.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Starting and finishing South Whidbey Academy’s graduation a little late was in classic fashion.

A technical problem with Thomas Berry Hall’s microphone left the 11 alternative school graduates waiting just outside the hall in the baking sun June 17 about 10 minutes past the scheduled start. That was fine for many of them who needed more than the standard four years to graduate from high school. On that bright Monday, however, they walked across the stage, shook hands with Director David Pfeiffer, the superintendent and school board, grabbed their diplomas and officially became high school graduates.

“This school is a vessel for transformation,” said graduate Colleen Klock, who was chosen as the faculty-choice speaker as the top student with a 3.98 grade point average.

A common theme for the graduates’ stories was how and what they have overcome. Klock, in her speech, mentioned that they are defined not by what they did, but what they overcame. That was a personal message for her, as her father died when she was younger. Other students had similar stories of growing up quickly once they lost parents or made decisions that separated them from family.

“They will go out and they will change the world because they showed up … almost every day,” Pfeiffer quipped.

On graduation day, the hall was filled with family, friends and other supporters of the 11 graduates. Even the teachers were among the group of supporters, and not solely because it was their job.

“It wasn’t your job to go through the stuff we put you through,” said Anthony Banks, the student-choice speaker.

In his speech, Banks praised the teachers and tutors who spent hours helping them through school work and life in general. Tom Rowland, a volunteer tutor, was chosen by students to speak at graduation. He reflected on his time with the graduates and offered some simple advice. Ben Watanabe / The Record | The South Whidbey Academy graduates break from the neatly formed single-file line before beginning the ceremony procession at Thomas Berry Hall.

“They demonstrated to me cell phone addiction, being a little too social and taking too many potty breaks,” Rowland said, evoking laughter from the students and teachers.

“Help when you can, and take help when you need it.”

Added Pfeiffer of the school’s dedicated volunteers: “I think Tom and Clyde (Monma) went to school more than some our students. They were there every day.”

One of the traditions that continued from the South Whidbey School District’s alternative high school program at Bayview School to the new academy was the individual introduction of students. Chosen by the student, a teacher or staff member presents the student for graduation after speaking about their character and history.

Teacher Karyle Kramer presented Klock, Zoey Maeser, Jasmine O’Brochta, Sarah Rentmeester and Cassandra Thomson; former school counselor Charlene Ray presented Norah Helley, Chris Reilly, Niki Sheldon and Jake Torget; and teacher Louise Fiori presented Banks and Sydney Wyma.

There was also the school’s unofficial fight song, “Nobody likes us, everybody hates us,” which a few students loudly sang at the end of the ceremony. Another longtime moment was the sounding of the hall’s gong, performed by graduate Chris Reilly.

Scholarships were presented to several students. Thomson received a $500 scholarship from American Legion and $2,000 from the Arise Foundation; Klock received $1,000 from the Bonnie Morgan Memorial Scholarship and $200 from the South Whidbey Commons where she volunteered hundreds of hours.

It was a transition year for many students and for the school itself. South Whidbey’s alternative high school at Bayview was changed to a K-12 school with elementary, middle and high school programs and relocated under one roof at the former primary school campus on Maxwelton Road.

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