351 Mercer Island High School graduates head to the future

Graduating seniors from Mercer Island High School waiting in line for the ceremony to begin pass the time doing “the wave.” - Matt Brashears/Special to the Reporter
Graduating seniors from Mercer Island High School waiting in line for the ceremony to begin pass the time doing “the wave.”
— image credit: Matt Brashears/Special to the Reporter

Commencement exercises for the Mercer Island High School Class of 2012 were held last Thursday evening at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle. More than 2,000 parents, relatives and friends attended, bearing cameras, flowers and good wishes, and perhaps a good measure of relief.

The rain let up as Islanders set out for Seattle on Thursday evening during rush hour traffic. Many found themselves following the yellow school buses full of graduates as they entered the freeway off of West Mercer Way and snaked their way through the backups on I-90. Those behind could all trail along in the HOV lane secure in the knowledge that they would not be late if the bus was, too.

Held on the fourth floor of the convention center adjacent to the glass-covered skybridge high above Pike Street, the huge event space was full. The Mercer Island High School orchestra performed themes from “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the Rings.” The graduates were attended by Mercer Island High School teaching staff and administrators clad in their own caps, gowns and hoods.

351 names were listed on the commencement ceremony program. The four class valedictorians are: Ashley Bobman, Samyukta Lanka, Andrea Lin and Elizabeth Orem. The two salutatorians are Annelise Giseburt and Anna Partridge — all young women.

As the graduates crossed the dais to receive their diploma (just the ceremonial folder, with the real one yet to come), exuberance reigned despite the solemnity implied by the occasion. Graduates were well-behaved despite family members in the audience who hooted wildly as their student’s name was announced. But graduates refused to be held back by such restrictions, expressing themselves the only way they could. Many feet could be spotted sporting a wide selection of footwear that would make any shoe courtier proud. Young men wore a selection of tennis shoes, size 14 couture leather slip-ons, Topsiders and, of course, the graduation standard, flip-flops. One young man strode to receive his degree in bare feet. Young women were also fashion conscious, many tottering on three-inch heels — while others wisely wore flats.

Physics teacher Aaron Noble was selected by the class to be the faculty speaker. He had long waited for the chance to be selected, he told the graduates.

He began by telling the audience that he had just completed a sheep-shearing class at Washington State University. He wanted to show what he had learned but realized the poor sheep would be frightened by the people.

Without sheep and shears, Noble, a physics teacher, took another tack.

He spent a few minutes to teach the crowd a bit of Italian. His intent was to represent the Italian equivalent of a semi-colon, a pause used in speech instead of on the page, he explained.

His point was the importance of the pause — not only in conversation but in life. It means to take a moment to reflect. The time to take a look around, take stock, to savor the moment and each other.

He used his experience as a teacher to illustrate his point.

Noble remembered a student who asked him many years ago if he would miss him after he graduated.

He said no. He used to view teaching as “something like wading in a river of youth,” he said.

“We [teachers] stand still while the kids the same age flow through our hallways and classrooms, new ones always replacing the old.”

But he found he does miss his students as they move on. Their journeys and successes have changed him.

“It reminds me how much I missed as a teacher back then; how much teaching has changed for me, and how much teaching has changed me.”

Senior class officers shared the podium during a discussion to explain how the culinary tastes of high school students parallel the changing hazards and stresses presented by each successive year in school.

Endless but low-risk choices at Subway often characterized freshman year. Yet by senior year, more risk-taking could be seen in how many stars (representing how spicy) they ordered for their food at Pon Proem.

The highlight of the musical performances was presented by graduate Alex Mesher, who will attend Stanford University in the fall to study environmental and marine sciences.

Wielding four mallets simultaneously, he performed a haunting and complex instrumental piece on the marimba. The five-octave, rosewood, custom-built instrument was purchased for him by his parents.

As the graduates filed out, much of the real celebration began with the greeting of family and friends as both graduates and their families realized that the passage through high school was complete. As the last of the graduates were finally hustled off to attend the all-night senior party, a mother stood watching her daughter go, wiping the tears from her eyes.

As it is each year, the senior party was held at a secret location where grads are without their cell phones.

The group returned to the high school at daylight, their last yellow bus ride.

Photos contributed by Matt Brashears/Brashears Photography and Ron Chow.


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