Orcas Fire Chief O’Brien and State Senator Ranker Salute the Class of 2012
By Margie Doyle
Ceremonies for Orcas Island High School Graduation 2012, held yesterday, singled out the 21 graduates with music, stagecraft, flowers, speeches, community shout-outs, a smile-and tear-provoking video and yes, the diplomas that make it all official.
Graduates processed through an arbor at the center of the high school gym, as the high school band, joined by the School String players and the Community Band and directed by teachers Pamela Wright and Martin Lund, played “Pomp and Circumstance.”
In a reprise of the June 15 “Celebration of Success,” Superintendent/High School Principal Barbara Kline announced the recipients of each of the nearly $50,000 in local scholarships. She told the jam-packed gathering, “These are the children of our community. They grow up in public and we all talk about them… we teach them public discussion and a sense of responsibility to the larger community.”
Orcas Island School District Board President Tony Ghazel welcomed the graduates, family and friends at the 90th Orcas High School graduation. It takes an island to educate a child, he noted and pointed out the large number of school alumni in the audience as community
bankers, teachers, EMTs, firefighters, athletes, Realtors, pharmacists, chiropractors, retail owners, dentists, musicians, veterinarians, software engineers, dancers, construction workers, dental hygienists, utility workers,artists, fire chiefs, carpenters, plumbers , physical therapists — and he apologized if he missed anyone.
Ghazel introduced State Senator Kevin Ranker who addressed the graduates, saying, “You remind us of why it’s important to invest in education. You are the daughters and sons of Orcas Island — you can make a difference.
“Always remember where you came from; we will always remember you.”
Following the announcement of community scholarships, several of the graduates in cap and gowns joined the bands to play “Steppin’ out with Mr . T,” a composition by student Taj Howe with solos by Robin Gropp, Mackie Blackburn and Christopher Ghazel.
Then came the thoughtful and entertaining student speeches.
Robin Gropp, as Senior Class President, recalled the Kindergarteners “Letter Day Parade” 19 years ago, and said, “Significance is a matter of perspective… as our world gets bigger, we see more.” As he spoke of the class’s growth and perspective, he repeated the observation “This is the best day of our life.”
Christopher Ghazel, ASB president and Co-Salutatorian told the audience, “Obstacles can be overcome, no matter what the odds, if you apply yourself.” He challenged the group to find the “courage to follow your own dream.”
Huxley Smart, Co-Salutatorian, paraphrased the words in standard wedding vows in her address. Graduates, teachers and school administrators gleefully responded “We will” when asked to cherish their days at Orcas Island High School.
Valedictorian Sophie Thixton recited her poem commemorating the teachers, friends and parents, concluding, “May we never forget what we have here.”
The Commencement Address was given by Orcas Island Fire and Rescue Chief (and OHS alumni) Kevin O’Brien. He spoke of his own feeling upon graduating from Orcas High School as a secret weapon: “You feel special because you are special.” O’Brien led the applause for teachers “in the trenches,” Principals Kline and Kyle Freeman, for their “leadership in challenging, challenging times,” and to the school board for its “vision in guiding the school district.”
Then he turned to the students, thanking them for “your energy in making Orcas Island rock!” After advising them to “frame your reality, mange your attitude and own your own life,” he added the importance of planning, service and good decision making.
O’Brien gave a baker’s dozen tips on a successful life, from coaches Lou Holtz and Dennis Dahl, writer Garth Stein and his own watchwords:
- Do the right thing
- Do your best
- Treat others as you’d like to be treated
- You are responsible for your own happiness
- Learn to cook — you’ll always be able to feed your friends
- Find a low-maintenance girlfriend or boyfriend
- If you’re not early, you’re late
- Your car goes where your eyes go
- Think good thoughts and drink lots of water
- The harder you work, the luckier you are
- When you freak out, your brain turns off
- This moment is the best time of your life
O’Brien reminded the gathering of the unconditional love and high standards and expectations of their parents, and read from some of the graduates’ goals for a successful life.
He concluded with, “Grow old and have lots of great stories.”
The lights dimmed and the graduation slide show began with photos and videos of the 21 graduates through the years. Parents were included, reciting verses from the song, “Forever Young.”
As the strains of “Come Fly With Me” died away, the energetic, thoughtful, hard-working, happy, struggling class of 2012 received their high school diplomas from Orcas Island High School.
(To read OISD Board President Tony Ghazel’s full remarks, please click here)
“Welcome and thank you for coming to what promises to be another exciting commencement ceremony. It is a bitter sweet one for the Ghazel family as our third and last son is in this group; which he’s known for most of his life.>
“First please let me introduce my esteemed partners on the school board. These colleagues spend a lot of time helping create an atmosphere for student and teacher success in times where state funds are tight and diminishing:
“Immediate Past President Janet Brownell who is traveling in Ireland – she would love to have been here but knowing Janet I think that she might be helping Ireland with some fundraising.
Past Chair Scott Lancaster
Current Vice Chair Chris Sutton
“Chris please remain standing. Anyone who is an Orcas Alumni please stand so that we can cheer you.
“What is remarkable is that many of you past graduates have remained or returned to this beautiful place to make it better than you had left it – to make a difference.
“You are: Retirees, teachers, contractors, carpenters, emt’s, firefighters, bankers, real-estate agents, excavators, retail store owners and employees, at the pharmacy, the grocery store, at the hardware store, you are Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, photographers, massage therapists, software developers, musicians, handymen, farmers, restaurateurs, dental hygienists, coaches, artists, nurses, at the power company, the phone company, you are plumbers, electricians, deputy sheriffs, boat pilots, and yes fire chief.
“You are the thread and patches of the Orcas quilt.
“Of course it takes a whole island to get us to where we are today. his is the 90th graduation ceremony for Orcas Island High School (and no Wally Gudgell nor John Willis were there then) so for a century or more you the Orcas community have supported these schools and students.
“Early on you built places throughout the island where students can meet and learn, in the late 1940’s you built the Nellie Milton school, in the late 1950’s the first gym, in the early 1980’s the current Middle School, library and cafeteria and in the early 1990’s the current high school and this gym. Over the years you have also supported these students by passing bonds, maintenance and operation levies and you have contributed your time, skills and treasure.
“The fruit of these labors are evident. Our schools are exceptional because faculty, parents, staff and community make this possible. Let me direct your attention to that corner that shows banners of excellence, Orcas High School is often rated high on state and national lists. Right here above the stage there are athletic banners of excellence, our athletes compete well locally, at district and state levels – some of the young women in this class are state champions.
“Our student musicians perform and excel at local MAG concerts – as well as performing with the community band, music chamber musicians and at regional competitions.
“I could go on bragging but I want to wrap-up. Class of 2012 – you can see by this turnout that this community loves you and are supportive of your endeavors. Also, past graduates have paved the way for you in case you want to return and share your knowledge and skills with your fellow islanders.
“Let me take this opportunity on behalf of the school board to say well done and congratulations and wish you Godspeed on your next journey.
“In closing and this is really a pleasure I would like to recognize and extend the gratitude of the district’s staff, students and board – community to an Orcas Islander who has been a friend of this community and schools and is instrumental in helping this district and students in ways that most of us can only imagine – (well let me just say it – finding us a million dollars to help with work on this building here – please help me thank our own state senator Kevin Ranker – Kevin please come up and say a few words.”