High school was no easy feat for this year’s graduating class from South Whidbey High School. As freshmen, they were sent home when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and had to adapt to virtual learning before eventually returning to the normalcy of in-person lessons.
Even with these challenges, a total of 10 students earned top grades and the title of valedictorian in the graduating class of 104.
As the class of 2023 prepares to bid adieu – commencement is at noon this Saturday, June 10 – take a look at a snapshot of these valedictorians’ high school experiences and words of wisdom.
During her high school career, Parker Forsyth went above and beyond while maintaining a balance between school work, athletics and her social life. She served as part of the Associated Student Body, or ASB, for all four years, and was executive president during her senior year.
From freshman to senior year, she made the early-morning and after-school commute with a handful of other students on the Falcon swim team to Kamiak High School in Mukilteo to practice in their pool. She served as team captain her junior and senior years, and placed third and eighth in the state competition this year.
In addition, she played on the golf team her senior year, founded the Student Section Club and volunteered regularly at the elementary school.
Her fond memories include class competitions during homecoming week, especially Ultimate Frisbee.
“I would tell underclassmen to work hard and make the most of your short time in high school,” she said. “It really does go by in a flash.”
This fall, she plans to study health and exercise sciences at Colorado State University.
If there’s one thing Slater Canright is most proud of, it’s attending and committing to being a full-time Running Start student via the Ocean Research College Academy – ORCA for short – program at Everett Community College while still in high school.
This path has allowed him to earn credits for general education courses before completing high school, which will help immensely when he heads off to the University of Utah to study robotics engineering.
“I have had a lot of fun at ORCA, whether it be with my fellow classmates, or joking and talking with my teachers,” he said.
During his time in high school, Canright also participated on the swim team, played Ultimate Frisbee and did underwater robotics.
He advised underclassmen to enjoy high school while they can, because there’s always harder work to be done around the next corner.
For Cash Hajny, one of high school’s funniest moments happened during the pandemic, when he watched his friend fall asleep with his camera on during a ninth grade English class Zoom call.
“COVID made me appreciate the time in school with teachers and friends face-to-face and not take it for granted,” he said.
His proudest high school accomplishment is maintaining a 4.0 GPA while participating in three sports and other extracurricular activities.
He played varsity football for three years, basketball and track for four years. He served as a team captain for both football and basketball. He was also in ASB, the National Honor Society, Model UN Club and Student Section Club, which he helped co-found as the vice president.
This autumn he’s off to Gonzaga University, where he plans to major in human physiology.
Sports were a major part of Lori Murnane’s high school experience, with one of her fondest memories occurring during her junior year soccer season, when her team was league and district champions.
Murnane was a varsity soccer and basketball player for all four years of high school, a varsity tennis player sophomore and junior years and a varsity golfer her senior year. She served as captain of the soccer team her senior year and captain of the basketball team her junior and senior years. Outside of high school, she played on a select soccer team.
She was the vice president of the school’s ecology club her junior year and a part of the National Honor Society. In addition, she took multiple AP, high level math and science classes like physics and chemistry, which she advises taking earlier because “senioritis is real.”
Before the pandemic, she remembers turning in paper assignments; now, the majority of her homework is done online.
“Advice that I would give to underclassmen is try and surround yourself with people that you genuinely like, trust and think are good human beings because it will make your high school experience a lot more fun and less fake or superficial,” she said.
She will soon be bound for UC Santa Barbara.
Cheerleading team captain Freja Heggenes has her heart set on majoring in pre-nursing at Washington State University.
While at high school, she participated on the cheerleading team for a total of four years and the track team for two years, where she sprinted and threw the javelin.
She was also a part of the National Honor Society and ASB for two years. Last year, she served as junior class treasurer and this year she is senior class vice president.
Like her peers, Heggenes’ high school experience was irrevocably shaped by the pandemic. By the time classes were back to in-person instruction, it was junior year. She struggled with being isolated from her friends and not being able to experience school events, such as dances and sport events.
But when she was able to go to them, they were among her fondest memories, as well as the accompanying spirit week activities.
She advises underclassmen to enjoy high school, get involved, try new things and have fun.
During the pandemic, Madilyn Rowland took full advantage of distance learning by moving to a different state for half a year, which she said shaped a lot of who she is right now.
She participated in Spanish Club, where she had fun learning about Hispanic culture and having gatherings. She was also senior and graphic editor for this year’s yearbook, in which she made the cover and helped others throughout the yearbook.
After high school, Rowland plans on getting her business more solidly running. Her creative entrepreneurship business will feature custom fashion, photography, digital and original arts, graphic editing and more. In addition, she is going to continue working her job at a grocery store.
Her greatest accomplishment is being known for hard work, honesty and determination by her educators and peers.
“Be unapologetically you,” she advised. “It’s a waste of yourself to push so hard to fit into boxes defined by others. There are standard forms of respect and modesty you should follow but be yourself, don’t be rude.”
Despite it not being an academic accomplishment, Taryn Henny feels her greatest accomplishment has been learning to let things go, and learning from mistakes and moving on rather than dwelling on them.
Henny has been dancing since her first class at the age of 3. She’s been involved with Island Dance for 15 years and Whidbey Island Dance Theatre for the past six, first as a junior company member and now as a principal dancer and co-dance captain of the company. In her freshman year at the high school, she joined the cheer squad and continued through her junior year, when she was co-captain.
For underclassmen, she offers what may be a shocking piece of advice: prioritize sleep over homework. Being clear-headed enough to pay attention in class is more important than finishing that assignment late at night. Learn to be humble, she said, and self-advocate with teachers so that you get the help you need.
A recent memorable high school experience was the 2023 Rainbow Prom.
“It was, without a doubt, the best dance that I have attended in my high school career because it felt nonjudgmental and supportive,” Henny said.
She is attending the University of San Francisco in the fall, where she plans to major in psychology.
Abigail Ireland encouraged younger students to focus on learning and comprehension, not grades, at school, while also making sure to get out of their comfort zones and look for new experiences.
During all four years of her high school career, Ireland was a varsity swimmer who put in long hours at practices on the mainland, as well as a member of jazz and wind ensemble bands. She has played the trumpet since fifth grade.
Her time spent in quarantine during the pandemic gave her the freedom to develop herself on her own, learn her likes and dislikes and build a new perspective.
“My greatest accomplishment in my high school career is becoming comfortable and confident in myself and my ideas,” she said. “I try to keep an open-minded perspective and stand up for what I believe in.”
After high school, she is headed to the University of San Francisco.
For Waylan Parsell, some of his fondest memories of high school feature off-island trips with a large group of friends to Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood to hang out, get food and watch movies.
Although working hard is good, Parsell advised underclassmen to also take care of themselves and take the time to do the things they enjoy in order to keep a healthy mindset.
No matter how difficult things became for Parsell, he is proud to have maintained his high GPA. Though the pandemic took a lot away for students, it’s a time during which he made some of his greatest friends.
While in high school, Parsell played tennis from his freshman to senior years, becoming a part of the varsity team during his sophomore year. He also does karate at Tiger Martial Arts at the South Whidbey Community Center, where he is currently a second degree adult black belt, as well as a volunteer teacher of classes.
Post-graduation, he plans on going to Gonzaga University to major in computer science.
During her high school career, Madeline Racicot has been involved in a number of activities. She played soccer all four years. She was also involved in United Student Leaders, the president of Ecology Club and a member of Queer and Trans Club, Social Justice Club and the National Honor Society. In addition, she has ridden horses at Harmony Hills Stables for over 10 years and played on a select soccer team.
She counts surviving AP Biology and AP U.S. History among her biggest accomplishments. While the pandemic was isolating and took a toll on everyone’s mental health, it did teach her to be more self-motivated, academically.
“My advice to underclassmen would be to balance academics with your social life and not stress about things that are out of your control,” she said. “It’s important to work hard in school but not at the expense of your mental health.”