South Whidbey’s best looks back, forward

Some of South Whidbey’s top seniors shared their best memories, struggles and plans for the future.

Thursday afternoon, the Falcon graduating class of 2024 paraded through Langley as the families and community members who made the event happen cheered them on as one last big celebration before graduation day on Saturday, June 8.

The six South Whidbey seniors with an overall GPA of 4.0 at the end of this year’s first semester shared with the South Whidbey Record their best memories, struggles and plans for the future.

Josephine Chia

You might have seen her bagging groceries at the Goose Community Grocer, but there’s more to this young woman.

Over the past four years, Josephine Chia has worn many hats, including the principal violin in the Whidbey Island Orchestra, vice president of the school’s choir group, president of the school’s National Honor Society, vice president of the drama club and the Associated Student Body’s public relations officer, among others.

The most valuable things Chia has learned have been exploring racial consciousness through the lens of the model minority myth, and creating a culture that fights prejudice and systemic oppression “openly and honestly,” she wrote.

A challenge she has faced recently has been transitioning from high school to adulthood without losing important connections made in school.

“It’s a delicate balance between taking responsibility and asking for help,” she wrote.

Chia is grateful to her “close and vibrant” community on Whidbey, who shaped her into the person she is today.

In her next chapter in life, she will study physics or applied math at the University of Washington’s Honors program.

Ian O’Brien

Ian O’Brien has always strived to show his support and pride for the Falcon nation, being selected as the captain for the boys’ cross country and soccer varsity teams and joining the school’s National Honor Society, becoming the co-president in his senior year.

His favorite memory, he wrote, was winning his first soccer playoff game at the school.

“The stadium exploded with more noise than at any other moment I was a part of at South Whidbey,” he wrote.

A significant challenge for him was first adapting to online school and then adjusting to a hybrid curriculum, where classes were held both in person and virtually.

“I combatted these challenges by keeping in touch with my peers and discussing the challenges with my family,” he wrote.

After high school, O’Brien will pursue a degree in engineering management at Gonzaga University.

Carter Castle

Despite missing many days of school due to illness, Carter Castle is one of South Whidbey’s highest achieving students.

During difficult times, Castle could count on teachers, friends, counselors and his parents, which helped him successfully graduate from the school. He has fond memories of card games with friends, and loves how teachers let students eat in their classrooms during lunch.

“The best part of my high school experience (aside from the friends I made) has to be the faculty,” he wrote. “There are some truly special teachers here, and I was lucky to learn from them.”

At South Whidbey High School, Castle was involved with cross country and track and field. He was also a member of the Interact Club and the National Honor Society, on top of other school and community service activities.

After high school, Castle will pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering and possibly a minor in philosophy. In the meantime, he looks forward to his two-week trip to Europe.

Naomi Atwood

After four years in the cross country and track and field teams, Naomi Atwood doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.

Next fall, this Falcon will attend Middlebury College in Vermont to study either environmental science or biology while continuing to run cross country and track.

When the pandemic hit, the then eighth grade student had to learn how to be autonomous and self-motivated. This perhaps prepared her for a semester at school in France during her junior year, an experience she said was rewarding and formative.

Atwood was quite involved with the school’s community, serving as a Forefront Suicide Prevention peer trainer for two years and a core member of United Student Leaders, a student-led nonprofit that focuses on climate and social injustices.

One of her favorite memories, she said, was co-founding the Snow Sports Club during her senior year and skiing with her friends.

Audrey Gmerek

One of Audrey Gmerek’s best memories from High School was helping establish fake governments run by penguins as a member of the school’s MUN — Model United Nations — Club.

In the summer before her freshman year, she contributed to the creation of the Model United Nations at the high school, with the intention of creating more opportunities for students to learn civics and practice debating.

Gmerek also served as the executive president of the Associated Student Body and a peer educator for the University of Washington Forefront Suicide Prevention training program. She co-lead the United Student Leaders and served as the South Whidbey School Board’s student representative.

Like many of her peers, Gmerek struggled with the transition from remote to in-person learning, a time during which she dealt with mental health challenges.

“This was difficult to navigate considering the stressors of high school and uncertainty after COVID-19,” she wrote.

In a few months, she will move to Brown University in Rhode Island to major in political science, educational studies and environmental science. Once she completes her studies, she hopes to work for a nonprofit or to serve in the Washington or U.S. House of Representatives.

“Above all, I hope to use my education to bridge people and policy, and to create positive and sustainable change,” she wrote.

Savannah Simmons

For the past four years, Savannah Simmons battled against a common enemy to mankind — the alarm clock. For undertaking this arduous task each day, she was rewarded with what she called “memories for a lifetime.”

Simmons’ favorite memory from high school was running “The Quad” with one of her best friends since second grade, Sophia Patrin. The Quad, she said, is a senior tradition on the distance track team where athletes run 3200 meters, 1600 meters, 800 meters and the 4 x 400 meters relay in the same meet.

Another challenge in which Simmons prevailed was planning the first homecoming dance since the beginning of the pandemic. On top of never having attended a high school dance before, she had to plan an event that followed covid-era restrictions.

In the end, with the help of her sophomore Associated Students Body team, she was able to plan a successful event. In that process, she developed a stronger bond with her teammates.

Simmons competed in the cross country varsity team for three years and the varsity track team for four, was a member of the Snow Sports Club, the Associated Students Body and the National Honor Society. She also co-founded the school’s Model United Nations Club and served as its vice president.

She now plans to attend Colorado State University to study biomedical and mechanical engineering within their honors college. After that, she will pursue prosthetic engineering with an emphasis on sustainable resources.

Her end goal is to create affordable prosthetics for amputees.

Carter Castle

Carter Castle

Ian O’Brien

Ian O’Brien

Naomi Atwood

Naomi Atwood

Savannah Simmons

Savannah Simmons

Josephine Chia

Josephine Chia