Island families and students, donning face masks and graduation caps, attended the Class of 2021’s commencement ceremony last Saturday evening, an annual rite of passage held after months spent apart rife with new normals, though spirits were as high as ever.
While their experience as a student body, living and learning through a pandemic, was impactful, Principal Danny Rock noted in his speech that he believes the graduates have the talents, character and temperament necessary to create a brighter future.
“We live in a divided time, an era marked by extremism, fear and mistrust. Our faith and institutions are crumbling, our worry and anxiety soaring, and our environment is teetering on the edge of catastrophe. And then the virus struck. What are we to do? How do we move forward? And what will the future hold for us?” he said, emphasizing the seeming enormity of it all while sharing his belief that this generation possesses vital creativity, humor and values such as hard work, connection and resiliency.
These qualities, Rock said, made Vashon High School a better place at a time when it was desperately needed, and will someday help the world.
“The size of the challenges facing the Class of 2021 will be met with a lifetime of preparation that our graduating seniors have spent leading them to this day. We do not have to give into doom scrolling or to the fear surrounding us because we have the hope of the future before us today,” he said.
Andy Callender, the faculty speaker, who is also leaving Vashon High School this year, chose to mark the occasion by inviting students to eat beef jerky and to participate in one last math lesson at the end of the program, drawing laughter. He compared the graduates’ impending journey in life to a mathematical sine curve, or the graph of the sine function in trigonometry.
“The seasonal nature of the universe can be described by periodic ups and downs, ebbs and flows, highs and lows. This curve foretells the story of our lives and reminds us that the experiences we have, whether good or bad, are always temporary. Your level of happiness is no exception to this,” he said. “The sine curve is inevitable. The secret is to raise the bar. Lift your baseline. Surround yourself with people you love, and work hard to build community wherever you go.”
Several students spoke during the ceremony, including Max Zuber, expressing his disappointment that the return to in-person classes meant he had to start wearing pants again. While the transitions were difficult at times, he praised the class for coping with the pace and magnitude of change they faced throughout their final year.
“Honestly, I couldn’t have done it without any of you,” he said. “We survived classes that may have been challenging to us. We somehow managed not to perish while doing AP testing online. We never did college admissions online [before]. And we did it all with the support of one another.”
“Whether it be my closest friends or some of you who I’ve only ever really talked to a few times, you all had an impact on my high school experience. And I will always be grateful for you,” Zuber said.
Next up, Jake Bowden, Aiden Janssen and Malio Nelson of the band Aisle 22 rocked out on the field with one last electrifying performance before accepting their high school diplomas.
Several students were chosen for the Pieces of Eight honors, as is customary on Vashon. The students this year were Ethan Choo, Catherine Brown, Bassam Al Mustafa, Lyla Mildon, Ty Radford, Mead Gill, Tamsen Henry and Zachary Van Dusen.
The class salutatorians were Aiden Rees, Corinne Ryan and Max Zuber, who each had a 3.97 cumulative grade point average. Ryan and Zuber will attend the University of Washington, while Rees will attend Bennington College.
Roslyn Bellscheidt and Eleanor Yarkin tied for class valedictorian, each with 4.0 GPAs. Bellscheidt will attend Duke University and Yarkin will attend California Polytechnic State University. In their speeches, the two went beyond their academic achievements to offer their peers insightful comments on the importance of never giving up, never allowing hopelessness or fear to overcome them, and honoring the stories of their past. Yarkin, speaking from her own experience as an athlete, told the students to pursue their passions and not to allow worry and uncertainty to stop them from going the distance.
“I encourage all of you to be the chaser and not the chased, and to be filled by your passions rather than run from your fears,” she said.
Bellscheidt, for her part, believes that living authentically has helped her to be accepted for who she is and to recognize the dangers of attempting to constantly meet people’ expectations, something she wishes she could have warned her younger self about if she had the chance.
“I would tell her to speak her mind and make stupid mistakes and open herself up to failure. I would tell her that she is only young once and she should live messily and imperfectly and brilliantly because before she knows it, she will be walking across the stage to get her diploma,” Bellscheidt said. “You have all impacted me and shaped my life in more ways than I could name, and I thank you for that. Truly I do. I hope that you all find the most authentic versions of yourselves and fight to live the lives that you deserve.”