SWHS grads challenged to meet a new world

Bethany Stringer, right, hugs fellow grad Denita Farmer as the pair celebrate their graduation from South Whidbey High School on Saturday. - Brian Kelly
Bethany Stringer, right, hugs fellow grad Denita Farmer as the pair celebrate their graduation from South Whidbey High School on Saturday.
— image credit: Brian Kelly

After four years, these Falcons have flown the coop.

The 169 seniors of the South Whidbey High School class of 2009 celebrated their commencement Saturday in the high school gym before hundreds of family and friends.

For graduate Tommy Boyle, the day was made extra special by the surprise appearance of his brother, Air Force Senior Airman Joey Boyle.

Boyle's mother, fourth-grade teacher Nancy Chapin, arranged for the airman to surreptitiously travel from an air base in North Carolina where he's a C-130 crew chief.

The plan worked.

Earlier that morning, Tommy had told his mother he felt he couldn't do this without his brother being there.

"I had no idea this was going to happen," Tommy Boyle said after the ceremony. "I was walking down the aisle and there he was. It was hard not to cry."

Before noon, nervous grads could be found adjusting their caps and gowns in the auxiliary gym as the huge crowd jammed into the main gym.

"Chaos reigns free as order passes like the classes of yesteryear," noted valedictorian Ian Marsanyi as he watched his fellow students milling around in apparent disarray.

A closed-circuit television screen had been set up in the auditorium but, though cooler and more comfortable, no one took advantage.

As the grads filed in with all pomp and circumstance, the band swing into a modified version of the classic theme so eight members could join their buddies on the stage.

Principal Rob Prosch detailed the class' "marvelous spirit and high level of community involvement."

He noted the jazz band's trip to Monterrey, Lindsey Newman's third state tennis title and the fact that 83 grads had achieved a grade point average above 3.2.

"This class has more than exceeded the expectations we had for them," he said. "They leave an indelible mark."

He urged them to share their gifts with others, always play fair no matter the endeavor and "remember that warm cookies and cold milk are good for you."

He also asked them always to maintain a sense of wonder about the world.

District Superintendent Fred McCarthy noted the day was a celebration of a long journey and quoted Eleanor Roosevelt: "You will gain strength, courage and confidence when you do the thing you think you cannot do."

Senior class speaker Wolf Clifton looked over his classmates and said the day was truly the end of the world as they knew it.

"Human knowledge is accelerating at ever-faster pace and our challenge is to try and keep up," he said.

Musical performances were provided by the high school choir's rendition of "Roots and Wings," and Zora Lungren and Hillary Mellish singing "For Good."

Tim Atkinson, Keegan Harshman, Grant Neubauer, Nick Tenuta and Marsanyi brought the crowd to its feet with "Won't Get Fooled Again," by the Who.

This class had an unusual number of valedictorians, six in all, who achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average. They offered their thoughts on what it all meant.

All except Kenny George. As if to punctuate the level of talent in the class, it was announced that George was rowing his heart out at the U.S. Youth National Rowing Championships in Ohio.

Michela Mattens told the graduates to be like rocks, to stay grounded so they don't require high maintenance.

"We haven't found all the answers to life yet, but we're closer than we were yesterday," she said.

Ben Snow said the problems of the world now belong to them. Marsanyi added that each of his classmates displayed a sense of purpose that helped define the class and will continue as they join the world community.

Caitie Fjelsted recalled an old saying from her grandmother whenever they passed a candy store.

"'Keep your eyes forward and just keep on walking', she'd say. That's a phrase that has merit when things go bad," she said.

And Neubauer said that the class had raised the bar for all who follow.

"Look what we did," he said. "All of us supported each other whatever our talents. We are, and always will be, the class of 2009 from South Whidbey High School."

Finally, a poignant moment was reached when senior class president Christine Johnson asked all those who had been together since kindergarten to stand and 80 percent rose from their seats.

"We've been together a very long time," Johnson said. "But you'll always be able to return and always feel like you're home."

With that, the grads moved their tassels to the left of their caps and hurled them high into the air.

Later, Chandler Thompson said all of his classmates felt relief that it was over.

"The low point was the heat and sitting there so long," he said. "The high point was throwing our hats. It felt very good."

Outside, there were hugs and smiles and not a few tears as the grads embraced their friends, their family and the future.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or

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