The Washougal High School graduation ceremony Saturday included several opportunities to honor America and the veterans and students willing to defend it.
Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Schick-Ogle Post 4278 installed a new flag at the school, as the soon-to-be graduates who had enlisted to serve in the various branches of the military stood in front of the commencement stage. VFW Officer of the Day Gary Andreas played “To the Color” on a ceremonial bugle as the flag was raised, and the WHS band performed the “Star Spangled Banner,” during the salute.
The ceremony got underway at Fishback Stadium with the school band performing the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance,” as the seniors joyfully entered Fishback Stadium two by two, giving each other hugs, high fives and fist pumps. Family and friends brought bouquets of roses and orange balloons to the stands, and a beach ball made an appearance twice.
In welcoming the crowd, WHS Principal Aaron Hansen introduced members of the Washougal School board, as well as Mayor Sean Guard, teachers, staff members, and parents who had helped raise money for the seniors’ drug-and alcohol-free graduation party.
It was announced that 142 of the 181 graduates planned to attend the all-night celebration.
Ryan Castro, a school resource officer with the Washougal police department, was also recognized.
This year’s graduates accumulated more than $850,000 in scholarships. Several seniors received credit at Clark College through the Running Start program, and some of them took enough courses to earn associate of arts degrees.
Recognition was also provided for seniors who had attended the Clark County Skills Center, as well as recipients of departmental academic awards and participants in drama, choir, band, sports and numerous other school activities.
There was a moment of silence, to honor former teacher Gary Wallace, who died May 25 at the age of 73. After teaching science for 10 years at Jemtegaard, he retired earlier this school year for health reasons.
“He’ll be missed,” Hansen said.
Elizabeth Price, a co-valedictorian, mentioned that this year’s graduates include a future firefighter, music producer and deep sea scuba diver.
“This place is home, no matter how small or rainy,” she said.
Co-valedictorian Angie Steffanson described Washougal as “a close, supportive community.”
“It is a small, but beautiful city,” she added.
Steffanson appreciated local residents attending Panthers football games on Friday nights.
“It’s the small moments that become your most cherished memories,” she said.
While thanking her parents, sister, grandparents, aunt, uncle and boyfriend, Steffanson attempted to hold back tears.
“Do not be afraid to chase your dreams,” she told her classmates.
Salutatorian Kari Johnson talked about the special friendships and alliances that had been formed in high school, and she mentioned her twin sister Kaitlyn.
Kari talked about cherishing her time at WHS and said graduates would go to college or enter the military or workforce shortly after graduation.
“Keep in touch with your friends,” she said. “Reach for your dreams, and take on the world.”
Senior class president Brenna Yeager talked about learning from mistakes and called the days after graduation “a new chapter, an adventure.”
“Never give up,” she added.
The class of 2013 selected Brian Amundson — a 16-year faculty member — to give the commencement address.
He predicted most of the seniors would sleep past 7:55 a.m., the time of first period, on the first Monday after graduation.
While some graduates will go to college, others will learn life lessons with jobs.
“Take pride in your work,” Amundson said.
He thanked the students who were joining the military “to defend the freedoms we enjoy.”
Amundson said life after high school will involve a “fresh start with a blank label.”
He mentioned that former President Teddy Roosevelt participated in boxing and tennis, despite suffering from severe asthma and other ailments.
“He was a symbol of strength,” Amundson said. “Work on your shortcomings and weaknesses.
“‘Dare greatly,’” he quoted Roosevelt, whom historians have described as an optimist with attributes such as honesty, integrity and courage.“Work hard, play hard, and make every day a little better than the last,” Amundson concluded.
Associate Principal Carol Boyden introduced foreign exchange students who were part of the senior class.
“Once a Panther, always a Panther,” she said. “Thank you for enriching our lives.”
Boyden presented certificates of attendance to students from Germany, Brazil, China, Korea, France, Sweden and Japan.
“Travel safely,” she said. “We’ll miss you. Come back and see us.”
Guard, a 1980 WHS graduate, donned a “W” cap and asked future members of the military to stand and face the audience.
He also had veterans stand up.
“These are the men and women who went before you,” Guard said to the enlisted. “Do you intend to make us proud?”
He mentioned the Washougal City Council is discussing the addition of a student representative — elected by the student body — to advise council members.
Guard brought along voter registration cards to hand out to graduates after they received diplomas cases.
“Bring the cards back on Monday,” he said and referred to voting as a right defended by the military.
Guard presented citizenship awards to Cassie Holcombe and Alexa Eddy. Holcombe was credited for launching the “Save Our Scraps” program to increase recycling at school and for being involved in the “Be the Change” anti-bullying effort.
Eddy was applauded for her involvement in the “Stuff the Bus” (food and toy collection) efforts and other endeavors.
Tami Grant presented the “Bootstrap” award to a student who had overcome adversity.
Anthony Valdez took care of his younger sister, while also taking Advanced Placement classes and earning a high grade point average.
Known as “the man of steel” in the school hallways, Valdez was credited for also having a heart.
After all the graduates made their way to and from the stage to be congratulated by school officials, they turned their tassels.
Caps were tossed in the air and quickly recovered, before the graduates gathered on the field to greet their families and friends.
After the festivities, cleanup crews — which included volunteers — picked up water bottles and orange streamers, from the empty stands.