For such an emotionally charged day, a watershed moment for a hundred or so South Whidbey High School seniors, the dominant expression was humor.
The four valedictorians and pair of student speakers worked plenty of jokes into their speeches Saturday, June 7, inside a packed Erickson Gymnasium.
Jack Hood, a valedictorian, worked a set worthy of the Laff Hole in Seattle. In his soft, nearly monotone talking style, Hood spoke of being motivated by his younger sister who would criticize him when he wasn’t studying.
“Being called lazy does wonders for your work ethic,” he said, prompting the crowd to chuckle.
His hearty laughter-inducing jokes came when he gave a peek into his family life. Hood said his speech would ramble, but it would be like a bag of trail mix, or in his case, homemade trail mix that replaced M&Ms with chocolate chips. The M&M simile was used throughout his speech in encouraging his peers to think in peace without distraction while walking in the woods, a practice in which he frequently engages.
“Here comes my second piece of advice. Write it down or you’ll forget it,” said Hood, letting the crowd lean in and wait several seconds for the next lesson. “That’s it: write it down or you’ll forget it.”
Before Hood had the crowd laughing, valedictorian Sydney Ackerman used another simile of maturing like Frodo Baggins and his fellow Hobbits in “The Lord of the Rings.”
“When we were freshmen, we were like Hobbits in the Shire,” she said, adding that by 10th grade they were like Frodo at the Council of Elrond realizing their journey had much more ahead of it. As upperclassmen facing Advanced Placement courses in English, chemistry and U.S. history, the path to graduation was more perilous.
“There are days when survival is the only goal … just as when the Fellowship was in Helm’s Deep.”
The lesson, she said, was that she and her 106 peers need no longer bide their time for the next step.
“If we’re always waiting for the next thing to be finished, we will always be waiting,” Ackerman said.
Being able to count on “the rock” as their home was a consistent point made by the students. Faculty-choice speaker Nick French told his peers they were part of South Whidbey, no matter what.
“You are always a part of this class, this school, and this community,” he said.
Kiana Henny, one of the valedictorians, touched on the small-town nature of South Whidbey as well.
“Where else do you stop at a traffic light and see your best friend in the car next to you?” she said.
Student-choice speaker Ben Nerison, son of Langley Middle School principal Eric Nerison, rattled off several stories of growing up, including some PG-13 moments like his first kiss and getting into trouble.
“This is the only school that lets you be you,” he said, later making a joke about retired physical education teacher-turned-school board director Rocco Gianni’s ability to wear “short shorts” and still marry well.
At the end of his address, he brought up a trophy called the golden oyster, which he presented to his father, a man whom he said would get to school by 4:30 a.m. and come home at 7 p.m. and still be willing to play Xbox with him, who let him yell with joy after his first kiss as he was being driven home and “a dad who taught me a smile is worth everything.”
Superintendent Jo Moccia briefly addressed the students, joking that in her third South Whidbey High School graduation, she noticed that their shoes became “much more sensible.” She imparted some advice about being present and responsible.
“Be active in your own life. Make the right choice,” she said.