Mid-Columbia seniors celebrate graduation

Tri-City HeraldMay 31, 2013 

Tassels were turned and cameras flashed Friday as the Mid-Columbia kicked off a busy weekend of high school graduations. High schools in Richland, Pasco, Connell, Finley and Burbank held ceremonies on football fields, gymnasiums and in auditoriums with the family and friends of graduates cheering them on.

Today, seniors from Kennewick, Pasco, Kiona-Benton City and Prosser will mark the end of their high school careers.

Here's a look at Friday's graduates:

Richland High School

A teacher's passionate speech about work ethic capped Richland High's 2013 graduation.

Jack Long -- who is known at the school for the stories he tells students -- spoke to the graduates at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

His message was simple: Get off the couch and live a little.

"Don't sit on the couch and be a bump on the log," he told the students. "The only thing a bump on the log is good for is a bear to scratch his butt."

Long's speech came after the five valedictorians gave their speeches in front of a large crowd.

Each speaker expressed thanks for those who helped them graduate and reflected on the time they had being a Bomber.

Anneliese Barnes challenged her classmates to not only try to achieve their goals in life, but stop along the way to appreciate all that is around them.

"The ladder we use to get to our goals has a beautiful view from each rung," she said.

Valedictorian Elinor Lake called her close friend, Salutatorian Shelby Kurtz, on stage to give a combined speech that drew laughs from the crowd.

Bomber class president Brandie Kulmus remembered four classmates who passed away. The crowd observed a moment of silence as a display near the podium served as memorial for the teens.

Hanford High School

Each of Hanford High School's 13 valedictorians had their own message for their fellow classmates Friday at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

Some talked about the hard work it took to make it to graduation and prepare for the next phase of life. Others took a light-hearted approach, choosing to quote the movie High School Musical or the mythical Harry Potter character Professor Dumbledore.

Though different, each speech had a celebratory tone infused with a sense of accomplishment.

Teachers spoke about how unique the "amazingly talented class" of 2013 was and about the different talents each student possesses. A group of foreign exchange students from across the world also was honored.

The valedictorians finished by having everyone join together to sing Happy Birthday to fellow valedictorian Quinten Dicken, who turned 18 on commencement day.

The Falcon of the Year Award -- honoring the Hanford student who best exemplifies what it means to be a Falcon -- was presented to Lindsay Bullock and Savanna Steele. They were among six nominees for this year's award.

The loudest ovation of the night came when the eight students who plan to serve their country in different branches of the military were honored. Everyone in attendance stood and cheered as an American flag waved overhead.

Connell High School

The 111 members of the Connell High School Class of 2013 marched Friday evening onto Esser Field with plenty of exuberance.

There were lots of big grins and -- as the two lines of seniors met -- plenty of hugs, stylish fist bumps and more than a little dance in their steps as they took their seats.

Senior Stefan Davidson sang The Star Spangled Banner before a crowd of hundreds of parents, relatives and friends. He finished before a freight train passed just blocks away.

Valedictorian Elizabeth Castro said train whistles -- no matter where she is in the world -- will always remind her of her hometown and high school.

Her speech encouraged her classmates to always be curious: "Be curious about change. Be curious and visit new places. Be curious and learn about yourself. Be curious about tomorrow."

Valedictorian Stephanie Crowther likened her schoolmates to a honeybee which in its lifetime produces just one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey.

"I would encourage you to wholeheartedly contribute your one-twelfth ... and find a way to make a difference. You are important. Never underestimate your potential, for it is truly valuable," she said.

Be your own independent person, urged Valedictorian Ashley Thompson. She said every good, bad, or indifferent aspect of their lives in high school will be completely cut off now. That who they decide to be in the future will be 100 percent at their discretion.

Salutatorian Rachel Eskildsen recalled her class's hijinks, including making a jump rope out of book covers and nearly getting homecoming canceled with a stink bomb, or three.

The graduates include eight Running Start students, 41 who are going on to college and 28 who earned $438,936 in scholarships.

River's Edge High School

Joey Zayas wasn't afraid to discuss the path that brought him to River's Edge High School in Richland.

The graduating senior told the crowd gathered in Chief Joseph Middle School's auditorium that he pleaded guilty to a crime in 2009. He said it wasn't until two years after that he realized it was up to him to make something of his life.

He's now living in a group home, has a job and plans to attend Columbia Basin College in January.

"As a kid I remember my parents teaching me that you get what you pay for and you earn what you work for and it took me the longest time to really put that in perspective," he said.

Thirty-four members of the 54 students in the Class of 2013 were at the alternative high school's graduation ceremony Friday.

Each student who spoke at the graduation mentioned personal challenges in getting to graduation but also made sure to thank those who believed in them and motivated them.

"But aside from the things I learned, I met amazing people," said graduate Richela Wilburn, as she choked up while at the podium.

Valedictorian Antonia Heay Stewart pointed out that every student had a different personality, be it rambunctious or shy, but there is one thing that connects them.

"Our determination is what got us here today together," she said.

Joey, who won several awards and scholarships, was stern and serious throughout most of the ceremony, even as other graduates laughed, smiled or fought tears.

But at the end, just like everyone else, he smiled and raised his diploma high when Principal Dan Chubb announced the Class of 2013.

Three Rivers HomeLink

The Three Rivers HomeLink graduating class is small -- eight seniors in all.

But the students marched to the stage in their caps and gowns Friday to a big round of applause.

"To the Class of 2013: Congratulations!" said Principal Eric Sobotta at the start of the afternoon ceremony for Richland School District's alternative learning program.

"We have a strong group of graduates. I feel like this group has a sense of who they are, an identity. They know where they're going," he said.

Salutatorian Gabriella Brodaczynski told the crowd that HomeLink in Richland has become another family to her. The people she met and learned from there supported and encouraged her, she said.

"The biggest lesson I've learned here at HomeLink is to never give up on your dream, because nothing is impossible," she said.

Valedictorian Eleanor Cummins took inspiration from the late writer Nora Ephron for her speech. Ephron's mother used to say, "Everything is copy," meaning Ephron could use every life experience in her writing.

"And while not everyone in this room wants to be a writer, there are other ways of turning things into 'copy.' We can write, yes, but we can also talk to those around us whom we trust," said Cummins, a Tri-City Herald news clerk.

As the graduates "grow up and move out and on," they should work to maintain their relationship with their parents, said Cummins, whose parents are Meg Woods, a Columbia Basin College history professor, and Rich Cummins, president of CBC.

"Our parents are the perfect people to confide in. They're a living, breathing journal in which to place your proverbial copy," she said. "They're an audience as good as, if not better than, any other."

New Horizons High School

Many of New Horizons High School's Class of 2013 have had hardships beyond what the adults who gathered to watch them graduate will ever experience, said Brian Leavitt, interim principal.

But the 25 Pasco students persevered to walk up the aisle, arm in arm, boys in blue robes and girls in white, at Columbia Basin College's Byron Gjerde Center.

They smiled as they watched a slide show of the high points and happy times they shared, accompanied by the song Today My Life Begins.

"When I first came to New Horizons I was a completely different person," said Valedictorian Tyler Mursch.

He didn't plan to get involved, just get done with high school, he said.

But those at the school changed his thinking. They helped him want to be part of the group, he said.

"That's the greatest gift high school has given me," he said.

All the students graduating were at the school for a second chance and all are different people than when they arrived, he said.

And they will continue to succeed, he predicted.

"They have left New Horizons High School a better place than they found it," Leavitt agreed.

Columbia High School

The Columbia High class of 2013 walked into the Coyote gymnasium Friday for a ceremony a little different from past graduations.

Instead of a guest speaker, the class opted to have seven of its own talk about the funny stories of the past, the excitement of the present and the mystery of the future.

Alicia Lookabill's speech took a hard look at the "it's all about me" generation. She urged her fellow grads to stop wallowing in self-pity and start thinking in a more positive light.

"They say our generation is more narcissistic and self-absorbed than ever," Lookabill said. "I don't want to be remembered that way."

Sasha Tiffany talked about the 720 days of high school they all shared -- the good, the bad and the sad.

"We worked our butts off and earned the right to sit in these chairs," she said. "We've lost some friends along the way, but we also gained some new ones."

Katarina Hiebert-Rothrock and Haley Martineau combined their speeches and took turns sharing funny tales of years past.

Valedictorian Brittany Cotsford told the audience the graduates have a lot to be grateful for because they might never have made it through high school without their loving families, fabulous teachers, coaches and advisors -- as well as the wonderful custodial and lunch staff who kept them fed and clean, she joked.

Then there was Joel Blanco, who took his speech to a new level. He rapped the song Victory with as much style as rapper Lil Wayne.

River View High School

River View High School seniors entered their graduation Friday evening through an illuminated arch, adorned with red and black balloons.

And more balloons were suspended in the rafters of John Doran Gymnasium in Finley waiting to be dropped at the end of the ceremony.

The 59 students, wearing caps decorated with photos of friends or their number from the football team, cheered during a senior video, which initially showed photos of them as babies, shifting to shots of them as seniors.

Valedictorian Beth Conley, who wants to major in material science engineering at Washington State University, recounted the highlights of the years the students spent together. She then talked about senior year, with events like the last prom and last football game they share.

"Even though we had a year full of lasts, we have an entire future full of firsts to look forward to," said Conley, who later picked up her diploma from her father, Finley School Board member Scott Conley.

Salutatorian Jared Johnson, who will attend Eastern Washington University, wrote a poem for the occasion, telling his classmates, "There is nothing certain but uncertainty."

Language arts teacher Tyler Hogg, who was named the students' choice to speak for the school's teachers, told the students they could face the monsters in life like the character Beowulf did.

He then pulled out an acoustic guitar and began singing '90s rocker Third Eye Blind's hit Jumper, with the seniors jumping up and singing along when he came to the line, "Put the past away."

w Reporters Ty Beaver, Annette Cary, Tyler Richardson, Sara Schilling, Loretto J. Hulse, Dori O'Neal and Geoff Folsom contributed to this report.

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