Kicking back at MIHS graduation

By Mary L. Grady

The Island community celebrated the graduation of the Mercer Island High School Class of 2005 Thursday evening, sending the students off with laughter, tears and a tincture of advice.

To the fanfare of the high school band, the 329 graduates strolled in -- many loaded down with the bling of achievements and awards. But despite the sea of maroon caps and gowns at the Meydenbauer Convention Center in Bellevue, it was very clear that each student is unique.

Graduate Mary Davis stood and sang a soaring version a cappella of the ``Star Spangled Banner.''

Graduate Daniel Kashima shucked his gown momentarily to perform an astonishing and complex classical guitar piece, ``Allegro Solemne'' from ``La Catedral,'' by composer Augustin Barrios. The hundreds gathered held their collective breath and leaned forward to catch every intricate note.

Any remaining uniformity fell away as the feet of the Class of 2005 grads, many too big to miss, came into view. There were shiny patent leather dress shoes, toe rings, ancient tennis shoes, black cowboy boots, basketball sneakers, scuffed brown shoes with black socks, stiletto heels, jeweled lime-green slippers, bare feet and the ubiquitous flip flops.

In their unique foot-ware, some strode down the long ramp with a stately tread, while others bounced and swayed, barely containing their joy. Still others floated to the stage and back, buoyed by the cheers and hoots of family and friends.

Many speakers paused to recognize and celebrate the contribution of parents, teachers and the community -- who helped to make it all possible -- and were there to cheer the grads on to the future.

Interim Mercer Island High School Principal Kathy Siddoway, who is completing her one year contract with the school district next month, encouraged the graduates to make service to others part of their identity.

``This time is when you begin to ponder who you are, why you are here and what you are going to make of your lives,'' she said. ``It is a new opportunity to make choices.''

She called upon them to make the choice of service to others and to make it a part of who they are.

Co-valedictorian Karen Zemplenyi observed: ``Being a graduate is unnervingly free.''

For co-valedictorian Olivia Rosane, headed to Barnard College in the fall, the word ``crazy'' came to mind as she considered her past and future. A multi-talented individual, Rosane even sang the first lines of her speech to the delight of her classmates.

In her speech, Rosane said she feared she had learned too well ``how to play the game,'' how to do just what was required to get into the college she wanted. She feared that ability may lure her to a job and career and a life about making money where she may forget the promises she made to herself.

``But I like to tell myself it's OK,'' she continued. ``I like to tell myself that I really want to go to college because I really do love learning and discussing that learning with others, and that, as soon as college is over, I'll drop out of the rat race and write novels as I travel the world campaigning for social justice, human rights and world peace.''

At one point she stopped to have her fellow classmates recite a pledge to never forget those promises they made to themselves.

Other students spoke of the mixed emotions they had of growing up, of high school and the uncertainty of the future.

Class speaker Ben Chapman said ``being unpredictable in high school had been essential.''

``In a world that stresses individuality, you've got to go to a real extreme to be original. And that's not easy, with so many people in the world, being special in any way is getting tough. How does a rain drop make a wave in an ocean? How do we define ourselves; how do we matter? What we're talking about is simple. How do we leave our mark in this world?

``Unfortunately, I can't answer that question. But here is what I can tell you: The answer is not going to be on `Desperate Housewives.' And even more unfortunately, it's not gonna be on ESPN. The answer will not be in any book. It will be found, through experience.

``It might be glimpsed by talking to a stranger. It might be spotted sailing off the coast of Thailand or seen while laying brick in a Boston housing project. The answer might be discovered by cataloguing the mating habits of the Australian King Cricket. My point is, the answer is out there. And it's not necessarily someplace exotic. But it's up to us to go find it.''

Chris Twombley, the faculty speaker, noted that as proud and happy as parents are to send their teens off into the world, they too cannot help but feel the loss of control and a bit of fear. He imagined their dismay about some choices their grad might have made for the evening.

``Did he wear those shoes tonight just to spite us?''

As the last graduates crossed the stage to receive a handshake and a diploma, undergraduates in the clarinet section of the band huddled together squeezing in a bit more homework before preparing to play again. They were getting ready for their turn in maroon next June.

Sidebar: Awards and Accolades to the Class of 2005

As they have done every year for many years, members of the Mercer Island High School Class of 1976 along with teachers and community members, came to bestow awards on students who best exemplify the memory of individuals whose lives have inspired others.

Awards given in honor of teachers, administrators, and former students for academics and leadership at the Mercer Island High School graduation ceremony last Thursday included the Ethel C. Johnson Award, given to Kate Gunby. Lee Cordova, won the Robert Studebaker Award.

The Myra Averill Award for leadership and service went to Alexandra Yost

In a surprising announcement, Yost was also named as the recipient of the Tyler Cox Spirit Award, an honor voted on by students. City Councilman Jim Pearman, who presented the award, said he did not think that this double-honor had ever happened before.

Other awards and scholarships announced earlier included:

The Brett Story Summit Seekers Scholarship went to Eugene Kim and Colin Sterling. The Krishna D. Vara Award went to Patrick Fergusson; the Gwen Lewis Award went to Caden Salvata; Norrie Lamson award was given to to Annie Taylor and Shawn Kelly.

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