Mortarboards flew and loved ones smiled Saturday as the Mid-Columbia’s biggest weekend for high school graduations wrapped up.
Eight high schools in Kennewick, Pasco, Prosser and Kiona-Benton City sent off the Class of 2013 in style with balloons and cheers.
Here’s a look at Saturday’s graduations:
Kennewick High School
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Lion pride was on display at the commencement of the 106th graduating class of Kennewick High School.
“We are lions,” said Ahmed Ali, an exchange student from Egypt. “And once a Kennewick lion, always a lion.”
Graduates walked into the Toyota Center in groups of friends to Pomp and Circumstance played by the school band and orchestra, some stopping when they reached the start of the red carpet to raise their arms in victory.
Valedictorian Prescott Davis, also the class president, told his classmates he was sure they would rather see him make a balloon animal than make a typical graduation speech.
“Just like a balloon animal life has its twists and turns,” he said as he twisted legs and head onto a balloon and told the story of the class.
“Can we all agree we had a good story?” he asked. “So let’s end it with a bang,” he said, popping his creation.
Salutatorian was Myanna Harris.
The commencement marked the 15th time a child of Rick and Pat Reil walked across the stage to pick up a Kennewick High diploma. Madilyn Reil is their youngest and last lion.
Missing from commencement was classmate Alondra Flores, who is in Seattle for treatment of brain tumors. Her sister and brother accepted her diploma.
The graduates are taking memories with them and leaving behind three gifts: a new bike rack, the school’s first official flag and a spirit runner flag for rallies.
Pasco High School
Pasco High School wasted no time getting its graduation ceremony going Saturday, with Principal Raul Sital welcoming those packing the west stands of Edgar Brown Stadium 10 minutes before the scheduled 10 a.m. start.
Moments later, the 309 graduating seniors were seated along the stadium’s track in their white and purple gowns.
With a class motto of “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” taken from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, an impression could be left that the students have priorities other than education. But administrators said that is far from the case, with Pasco High seniors claiming more than $1.5 million in college scholarships.
Valedictorian Kelsey Price, who will study medicine at Washington State University, praised the teachers who helped her achieve her goals.
“These teachers reached out to their students to make sure that we emerged from their classes, not just educated, but enlightened,” Price said.
In a bilingual address, Sergio Rico told the audience that he spoke only Spanish when he came to Pasco in 2009. But he not only learned English, he will attend WSU Tri-Cities in the fall.
“All of us graduates have built a solid foundation at Pasco High School, and college has gone from a dream to a reality,” Rico said.
Salutatorian Ignacio Bayardo, who will study life sciences at Harvard, served as master of ceremonies for much of the event.
Southridge High School
Southridge High School’s Class of 2013 just couldn’t resist one last chant of “Southridge power” as about 325 graduates strode into commencement, some clasping hands, others arm in arm.
They were accompanied by the cheers, claps and camera flashes of family and friends who crowded into the bleachers Saturday night at the Toyota Center.
Valedictorian Sarah Morgan recalled how most of them had spent 716 days and 4,654 hours at Southridge during the last four years.
Kendra Morrey, valedictorian and ASB treasurer, encouraged everyone to make the small “lollipop” moments count.
“This moment is something we earned for ourselves,” said Katharine Wimett, salutatorian and ASB secretary. “Today is the culmination of our hard work, and at the end of this ceremony, we will earn our diplomas, together.”
ASB president Emma Sanders thanked everyone for making Southridge a “compassionate, fun, loving and giving” environment.
Valedictorian Andrew Nett challenged his fellow classmates to make a goal of beating the graduates sitting on either side in the next game of post-high school.
English teacher Nicole Haueter encouraged the class of 2013 to be as fearless in the future as they have been during the last four years, in all of its meanings, from “spunky, sassy or cheeky” to “undaunted, brave, courageous.”
Chiawana High School
The Chiawana High School class of 2013 became the first seniors to complete all four years at the school when they received their diplomas Saturday in front of thousands at Edgar Brown Memorial Stadium in Pasco.
They were the first-ever freshman class at the school, which opened in 2009.
Valedictorian Jamie Steach called her classmates “pure bred Riverhawks.”
“This class of 2013, specifically, is the bridge between the past and the future,” she said.
Chiawana Principal Teri Kessie has used the same graduation speech for the past 10 years, she said, but this group of seniors meant so much to her and the school that she decided to write a new one.
“I want you all to know that you made my dream a reality,” she said. “You not only left your mark on the school, but on me as well.”
More than 85 scholars in the 2013 class earned more than $2.5 million in scholarship money.
Salutatorian Rachel Leavens spoke to her classmates about the growth she has seen in herself and the class as a whole.
“Through these four years, I have become someone,” she said. “We all have become someone.”
Prosser High School
Prosser High School Principal Kevin Lusk gave a few final words to his graduates dressed in red before he and other educators led them to Art Fiker Stadium for graduation.
“You have been amazing in a different billion ways,” he said, receiving a cheer in response.
The valedictorians of the Class of 2013 told their classmates’ gathered family and friends a lot of the reason their class is remarkable is because of the community.
Senior Caleb Aaberg said Prosser may not be rich in money, but it is rich in tradition and in support for its youth. Many families have done everything they can to ensure their student’s success.
“I remember sitting in a waiting room once with my mom and she took the free time we had to teach me how to carry over in addition,” said senior Jamie White.
Senior Alana Peters said she went to a high school with a leaking roof that wasn’t the prettiest, but said she would never want it otherwise, if it meant having different teachers.
“I hope they can look at us today and know that they are successful, and there is light at the end of the tunnel for us, no matter how many days they went home frustrated,” Peters said, choking up.
Now it’s up to the graduates to make the most of what they’ve learned and gathered. Caleb said they are destined to be future farmers, business executives, warriors and citizens. But despite everyone’s different path, they all share one thing.
“We are Prosser High School graduates. We are Prosser,” he said.
Kiona-Benton City High
Megan Elliott said she anxiously had waited to graduate from Kiona-Benton City High School since middle school.
The salutatorian kept track of all 2,340 days between the middle of sixth grade and the moment she’d be in a cap and gown.
“Then something happened in the time between middle school and senior year,” Megan said. “Time sped up and instead of dying for it, I began dreading it. Dreading the unknown.”
She and other student speakers acknowledged how important the close-knit nature of Benton City was to their education and support.
Dakota Renz, student body president, spoke of how his 77 classmates and community members supported him through the years.
“I challenge anyone to name a community where the entire town comes together to provide potlucks, bingo nights and other various fundraisers for families struggling or have unfortunately lost a loved one,” he said.
Valedictorian Alexis Mercado said he didn’t speak English when he first showed up at Kiona-Benton City Elementary School but by fourth-grade he was fluent.
“In that same grade my teacher, Mrs. Adamson, told me that she thought that I could graduate high school at the top of my class and, well, now here I am,” he said.
But then it was time for childhood to be put aside and to receive their diplomas, or as Dakota put it, their tickets to adulthood. And while it may seem scary at first to head out into the world, Megan reminded her classmates and their family and friends, that that’s what graduation is all about.
“We, the Class of 2013, are not short of passion, we have the drive, the want to be successful at anything we choose to pursue,” she said. “Our families and teachers have always believed in us, we just need to believe in ourselves.”
Kamiakin High School
The 12 valedictorians and two salutatorians for the Kamiakin High 2013 graduating class took an entertaining approach to their time at the podium Saturday.
Each spent one minute sharing high school memories near and dear to their hearts. Their speeches were lively, funny and poignant.
Cooper Atkinson, co-salutatorian, told his fellow grads that life is like a photo shoot and they should take as many shots as possible, whatever they do in life. He walked his talk by taking a photo of his classmates from the podium.
Bradley Thompson, co-salutatorian, encouraged classmates to have faith in themselves and remember to breathe, believe and always be ready for battle.
Hannah Booth, co-valedictorian, carried her old ballet shoes to the podium and said surviving four years of high school was like learning ballet — the journey was arduous but worth the work.
Kyle Deatherage, co-valedictorian, pull a lucky penny out of his shoe before he began his speech as a reminder of how lucky he’s been.
Breanna Duncan, co-valedictorian, said spending 4,680 hours in high school for four years had given her so many different experiences, most importantly to remain courageous and to value family.
Co-valedictorian Michelle Fletcher, Joe Luey, Alexandria Miskho, Victoria Roberts, Joanna Sun, Sangeetha Thevuthasan, Emily Bolton and Halle Weimar each kept their comments thoughtful and touching as they shared their minute of memories.
Devin Gerboth, also a co-valedictorian, brought perhaps the biggest laugh from the audience when he said his brother and sister also were valedictorians, and a family photo of his siblings needed a change now.
He then lifted the picture toward the thousands of family and friends at the Toyota Center and said, “Dad, it’s time to update the photo” to include him.
Tri-Cities Prep Principal Arlene Jones left the 25 graduates of the Class of 2013 with a short list of wishes as she spoke to them for the final time as their teacher.
“My greatest wish for you is that you are happy,” Jones said. “Happiness comes when we recognize the value of others in our lives.”
Jones challenged her students during Saturday’s graduation inside the school’s gym to not just exist in the world, but to “choose to grow.”
The graduates earned more than $550,000 in scholarships and will attend 13 colleges.
The Class of 2013 also participated in 5,000 community service hours throughout the school year.
Valedictorian Madelyn LeBrun spoke to her close-knit group of classmates about remembering the past and being excited for what the future holds. She praised Prep for preparing students both academically and socially for the next step in life.
“These will not be the best four year of our lives,” she said. “The best is yet to come.”
Salutatorian Madelyn Noble also was honored for her hard work.
LeBrun also was honored with the Leadership Award, Madison Coffey received the Service Award, Christopher Powers earned the Spirit Award and John Hylden was given the Award for Excellence.
Several students also remembered former Tri-Cities Prep Athletic Director Ray Whitlow, who died earlier this year in a car wreck.
Reporters Ty Beaver, Annette Cary, Tyler Richardson, Sara Schilling, Kristi Pihl, Dori O’Neal and Geoff Folsom contributed to this report.