Valedictorians: Natasha Kamps, Casey Fate and Cayla Calderwood lead the class of 2010

The three South Whidbey students chosen to represent the best and the brightest have their work cut out for them this weekend.

Remembering the past and imagining the future is the job of this year's valedictorians — Natasha Kamps, Casey Fate and Cayla Calderwood. The word is a term derived from the Latin vale dicere, "to say farewell," and that is what they'll be doing at noon on Saturday during commencement ceremonies in the high school gym.

After four years of blood, sweat and tears, the 130-strong seniors of the Falcon class of 2010 at South Whidbey High School will depart the nest and embark on the next chapter of their collective journey into adulthood.

This year's valedictorians were chosen on the basis of their perfect cumulative 4.0 grade-point averages.

Smart, yes, but in terms of their interests and aspirations, they couldn't be more different.

Natasha Kamps

Last year, Natasha Kamps underwent an epiphany of sorts. After spending several weeks working with villagers in a West African village in the country of Gabon, she realized that exploring world cultures was something that had real value and worth in her life.

Kamps visited Africa courtesy of a program run by the Christian Missionary Alliance Church of Langley.

“We worked with a medical caravan, relief workers and several churches in the villages,” she recalled. “I’m going back there for the summer because I want to learn much more about their culture. The differences and similarities between peoples around the world have become my passion.”

To that end, in the fall she will attend Simpson University, a private Christian liberal arts school in Redding, Calif., where she plans to delve into cross-cultural studies and world missions.

Kamps’ senior project dealt with the stories of those she met in Africa, and the insights that experience gave her that will influence her own future.

She recalled one of the highlights of her African adventure.

“We were at this remote village, playing with about 30 kids,” she said. “There was a boy, about 13, who started dancing to Michael Jackson on an old tape player. We all laughed as he danced, and danced.

“The point is, the people there used whatever tools they had to create a bubble of happiness, even if for a short time.”

Her favorite classes were U.S. history with Mark Eager and math with Andy Davis and David Nelson. Though her fall semesters were spent as goalie for the Falcon girls soccer team, whenever possible she spent time helping mentor middle school students at an after-school program run by youth minister Michael Berry.

Kamps admitted she loved growing up here — the small-town feel, the closeness of neighbors and friends — but knows it’s time to go.

“I’m at a place in my life where I’m ready to get off the rock,” she said. “There is another world beyond our shores that a lot of my classmates aren’t always aware of.”

She praised her parents for their support and knows that she will miss terribly the friends who were always there for her.

“They know who they are,” she said.

For her speech on Saturday, she intends to offer some advice to her classmates as they take the next step of their life journey.

Casey Fate

Math and music form the backbone of Casey Fate’s education at South Whidbey High School.

Fate intends to study mechanical engineering at the University of Washington in the fall.

“I’m interested in renewable energy sources like wind, geothermal and solar power, as well as green technologies — which I see as the wave of the future,” he said. “Not too many monster oil spills when you harness the energy potential of the sun.”

His father sparked his interest in solar power as a youngster, and he mentioned science teacher Greg Ballog and math instructor Davis as being major influences on his choice of subjects.

For his senior culminating project, Fate built a small-scale wind generator designed to provide rural villages unconnected to the power grid with a source of electrical power.

“I can see my work in college leading to projects that make a difference people’s lives,” he said.

Fate took every advanced placement class the school offers over the years.

“I got everything out of them I could and don’t believe I suffered in the least from being in an island school,” he said.

Fate has been a fixture of the middle and high band scene, playing trombone, accordion, tuba and, his personal favorite, the ukulele.

Another mentor instrumental in shaping Fate’s high school path was high school band teacher Chris Harshman.

“I owe him a lot; his patience and knowledge about music is amazing,” Fate said.

He plans to audition for some jazz combos when school begins, “and maybe play my accordion on the street, wherever people will listen.”

“I hear college is expensive,” he said.

Fate said he would miss island life.

“I’ve always enjoyed the ‘separateness’ of life here,” he said. “It’s good we’re not close to ‘big box’ businesses and overwhelming traffic jams. You can get to them when you need to. I love the woods and beaches and the fact that this is a well-rounded community.”

Cayla Calderwood

For any aspiring student wishing to excel in academics and athletics, one can have no better role model than Calderwood.

In the fall, she’ll enter the hallowed grounds of the nation’s oldest, and arguably most respected, institution of higher learning, Harvard University.

“My father, grandfather and uncle went to Harvard,” Calderwood said. “They were OK when I was accepted at Princeton, but Yale was definitely out.”

At this point, though she displayed a fondness for math in high school, she plans to study English with an eye toward a career in journalism.

“I had some really excellent teachers at South Whidbey in every topic,” Calderwood noted. “There’s been so many, I’m reluctant to single out one or two.”

She added that future students who stay on the island are lucky, describing the public school system as offering a first-class, quality education.

“Anyone who doesn’t recognize that, and take full advantage, well, that’s their loss,” she said.

One of the character traits a top university seeks is a clear track record of diversity.

Calderwood has that in spades.

For the past four years, she was a primal force in volleyball, basketball (including acting as team co-captain as a senior) and track. In just the past two weeks, she medaled in three events at high school track finals in Tacoma and placed seventh (out of 34) at the girls heptathlon championships in Lake Stevens.

When describing the best and worst aspects of growing up on South Whidbey, she couldn’t help mentioning the weather.

“Spring sports can be awfully dreary with all the rain,” she said. “Jumping over and over again into wet sand; ah, there’s nothing like it.”

Balancing that is her view of the supportive South End community, one filled with teachers, coaches, mentors and friends who weren’t afraid to get involved to help her and her classmates over the years.

“All the adults, and my wonderful parents and sister, Hannah, have played a huge part of my success and that’s part of the memories I’ll be talking about on Saturday,” she said.

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