South Whidbey High School Class of 2019 walked off into the future Saturday listening to a hit song from the past.
As the 95 graduates, each holding a single red or yellow rose, filed out of the packed gymnasium, South Whidbey High School Jazz Ensemble played a version of “American Pie,” the long song of long-ago 1972.
Born into a new millennium and into a country reeling from terrorism attacks, the graduating seniors repeatedly described themselves as “the passionate class.” They attended protest rallies, plunged into creative pursuits and marched to their own beat.
During his speech, Senior Class President Max Dodd said his Instagram account was always full of photos of students out protesting or engaging in their individual passions.
“As a consequence, I’ve struggled to get these people to participate in Spirit Week,” he said, laughing. “So that led to being called a class with low school spirit. I say the Class of 2019 has school spirit. These people have a passion, and if they don’t have a passion, I know they will passionately pursue finding a passion.”
On Friday, 13 South Whidbey Academy students also received diplomas, each wearing a different-colored sash with their blue caps and gowns on the school auditorium stage.
Every student heard a personal tribute from one of the Academy teachers. They spoke of the drive, determination and tenacity the teenagers possessed to overcome various challenges. Parents, relatives and friends responded with a mixture of cheers, tears and many bouquets of flowers.
During Saturday’s 90-minute ceremony, the Jazz Ensemble and choir gave performances while graduating senior Jakob Mederios bravely sang a solo rendition of “My Way” accompanied by Paula Ludtke on piano.
Valedictorians Michael Maddux and Carli Newman each gave speeches evoking their passions. Maddux, who’s headed to the Honors College of Washington State University for computer science, calculated how much time it took to get through K-12 in order to graduate — 15,795 hours.
Newman recalled when she became fascinated by fungi during a kindergarten walk in the woods. She compared the mycelium of fungus to the support system found on Whidbey Island and encouraged her classmates to thank those “who’ve helped you get to this milestone.”
“The next time you feel small, down in the dirt and surrounded by decaying leaves, know you have someone to lean on,” said Newman, who’s headed to Reed College to study biochemistry and molecular biology. “From the bottom of my heart, you are all fungus to me.”
Faculty choice speaker, Erin Brewer, praised and thanked teachers, calling them “super heroes.” Biology and science teacher Greg Ballog received a standing tribute of applause and cheers for his long teaching career when his retirement was announced.
Class choice speaker Matthew Simmons told of being born and raised in Ethiopia until his mother died when he was 8 years old. When adopted by the Simmons family of Whidbey Island, he said he not only gained chubbiness to his cheeks “but three best friends as siblings,” one whom graduated with him, sister Elizabeth Michelle.
Simmons encouraged his peers to stand up for themselves as they did collectively as a class.
“We challenged the school and because of that, we’re leaving it a little better,” he said.
Principal John Patton gave the welcoming address and Superintendent Josephine Moccia delivered a top 10 list of advice.
She spoke of the power of words, serving others and not being afraid to fail because “it means you have the courage to try.”
“Do not worry what others say behind your back. It’s none of your business,” Moccia told the graduating seniors. “Consider your words carefully. Once they are out there you cannot take them back, especially if you post.”
As the generation known as post-millennials, the class of 2019 never experienced a world when computers and phones didn’t fit into their pockets or when televisions were the only screens around.