A breezy, 90-minute ceremony Thursday belied the long, winding path seven South Whidbey Academy graduates took to earn their diplomas.
A tradition of the program from its former Bayview School days is to have an advocate, someone in the school who has helped them, speak on their behalf and present each student individually to the school board and superintendent for graduation. At the alternative school’s graduation held in the former primary school gymnasium for the first time, after years at Thomas Berry Hall, the students’ stories of struggle and perseverance were shared. David Pfeiffer, the school’s director, spoke of how the students took responsibility for their education and did all of the work that was required for them to walk across the stage, shake a few hands and receive their diploma.
“We have no magic formula for pouring knowledge into their heads,” he said. “We haven’t figured it out … They have to want it, they have to go for it.”
Teacher Charlie Snelling, who will retire at the end of the month after a decades-long career in education, wished the students luck as they continue their learning and maturation away from the “protective custody of public school.”
“Welcome to the real world,” he said. “Welcome to the real pencil palace.”
The student-choice speaker, Christoph Clare, spoke without notes or a speech. He talked about the issues he had in other schools. He started at Bayview School and saw, once the transition to the academy began, that cliques formed. He credited former student-choice class speaker Anthony Banks for leading the new students out of those habits and continuing the Bayview tradition of knowing everyone’s name and saying hello.
“I’ve grown attached to my fellow seniors, all my pals,” Clare said. “It’s been an experience, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. With that, my speech is done.”
For staff-choice speaker Cassie Marcial, the day was a time bomb of emotion. Before the ceremony began, she read and reread her speech, fussed with her hair and makeup and wandered the halls with her fellow graduates.
By the time she was talked about teacher Louise Fiori, tears were falling from her family members’ eyes. As she read from her typed speech (Marcial describes herself as a serious planner) she paused several times to wipe tears from her eyes. She recalled being homeschooled for much of high school and feeling resentment toward a graduation ceremony until she heard Banks talk about getting his diploma for himself and his mom, and that he hoped he made her proud.
“It was at that moment that I was determined to get my diploma, no matter how long,” she said, referring to her status as a fifth-year senior.
Marcial thanked each of her fellow graduates for something they taught her: Being lighthearted from Jessica Strempel; math tips from Clare; staying current with music from Cameron Beck; respecting different opinions from Kendall Jones; the importance of education from Dustin McLean; and how friends find one another from Erika Campbell.
Superintendent Jo Moccia briefly spoke to the graduates, congratulating them and praising their accomplishment.
“Truly, you are an inspiration,” she said. “You may not know it, but this is what life is about.”