As people drove into the Northwood Elementary School parking lot, they could spot a sea of crimson in the form of caps and gowns worn by the 361 Mercer Island High School seniors who were soon to be graduates of the class of 2021.
The masked students stood in small groups and their infectious chatter filled the air on June 10. About two hours later, those caps would be headed skyward as well.
Last year’s graduates experienced a drive-through ceremony during the pandemic, but this time out, the seniors’ families awaited their arrival in the nearby Islander Stadium. It was party time, and the cheers were emotional and explosive.
The graduates — who were allowed to invite two guests each to the ceremony — lined up and approached the stage to receive their diplomas in three different segments during the school’s 64th commencement exercises, which was titled “Integrity, Inspiration, Innovation.”
The livestreamed event featured an eight-person speech, “A Snail’s Journey,” by valedictorians Nathanael Cadicamo, Caden Gradek, Jacob Grosof, Wesley Ho, Justin Lesko, Ethan Preston, Annika Vanderspek and Emily Yang; an original song, “Blank Pages,” by singer/acoustic guitarist Jessica Starnes; Annie Hochberg singing Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t Worry About a Thing”; Kendall Baebler singing the “National Anthem”; senior speaker Noah Hendelman and more.
During her turn at the microphone, Vanderspek said that during the seniors’ high school years, the expectations to succeed were often overwhelming and they bonded to rise above the pressures.
“I hope that you can all be proud. Proud that you did not refuse this call to adventure. Proud that you took on the social, cultural and academic challenges of Mercer Island High School, and proud that none of us had to do it alone, in a global pandemic no less,” she said.
Hendelman sported flip flops, cracked some jokes and congratulated his classmates for completing their four-year journey and snagging their coveted diplomas.
“It’s not an easy feat. We struggled along the way, but we did it with grace, and humility and grit and academic honesty,” he said.
In his impassioned speech titled “Living, Not Surviving,” instructor Chris Twombley told the graduates that they were born to make a difference in the world.
“Even in the craziest of times, we are nonetheless called to live. With that in mind, I implore you to live to fight hate, to fight ignorance and apathy, to fight for the less privileged — live to fight for the health of our planet. It’s also a time to love and connect, to forgive, to humbly serve others,” he said.
Associate Principal Jeff Jones thanked the community for supporting the school district as it rolled with the consistently changing health guidelines to bring the commencement exercises to fruition.
“One of the things that we heard loud and clear from both our seniors and our parent groups, we want our seniors to be able to be together for their graduation ceremony,” he said. “Through the vision of (Principal) Walter Kelly and the hard work of several people, we’re so pleased to be part of this with our community today.”
To view the ceremony, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCahXme4BcA