It's hard to believe I've wrapped up my fifth year of covering high school graduations. While that's a drop in bucket compared to veteran community photojournalists, I've shot enough now that I remember what I did my first year, a little from last year, but anything beyond that takes some archive digging to figure out. And since I've already rambled on about the the ins and outs of graduation coverage, I decided to wrap up this year's batch with awards for each ceremony.
First up is Richland High School, which earns the distinction of Most Ridiculous.
I don't mean that totally negatively, however, and I actually had quite a bit of fun at the ceremony despite it being the longest one I covered. From preparation to completion was more than 2 1/2 hours, but it was my first of five graduations, so I was still in gung-ho mode. I tried a funkier take on the classic preparation photo, using the wacky reflections of a Toyota Center trophy case:
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And I recycled a couple of "creative" coliseum compositions, peeking into the tunnel beforehand,
and getting the backstage angle of outgoing Bomber Principal Gordon Comfort as he congratulated his last batch of Richland grads:
Comfort also poked fun at his own height before addressing the crowd:
I like the splash of color in this detail:
And I ended up with an OK hat toss to complete the cliché roundup:
What made it ridiculous was something I remembered from covering previous Bomber commencements. While every school has a few new grads who whoop it up after getting their diploma holders, Richland seems to have more showboats than any other school I've covered so far. They're so prevalent that I don't even bother shooting most of the workaday celebrators who raise their arms triumphantly. There's no point when you have people whipping their sashes or clicking their heels:
I also narrowly avoided getting hurdled, but was only upset that I wasn't in position to photograph the stage leap:
The best, though, was Perry McNamar, who attempted a front flip,
with plop and circumcrash:
The ceremony clinched its reward near the end, though, when a staff member emphasized the second syllable of ridiculous by telling me not to photograph kids like McNamar who goof off onstage, angrily telling me that it only encourages that kind of behavior.
I argued that it's part of the ceremony, which further enraged him as he countered with "It's not! It's not!"
The first photo of McNamar's attempted acrobatics went secondary on the front page, and while that particular staffer probably thought I did it just to take a jab at him, pissing somebody off who tried to overexert his authority was merely a bonus. While I see his stodgy perspective, graduation ceremonies are for the graduates, and a crazy flip helps tell the story of their excitement. Plus, the second photo that ran was huge and highlighted Emily Hazen, who will be attending the Air Force Academy, while Comfort honored all the students who were going into military service:
I knew it was an argument I wasn't going to (and didn't need to) win, so I told him I was busy and rushed off to squeeze off a few preparation frames for the Hanford grads, who looked liked they were bored from catching so much of the end of Richland's ceremony. Best friends Kyndra Sisayaket, in purple, and Richland's Sky Sengnaryvong, made a nice transition and I included their hugs in both galleries:
Other than that, it was standard prep fare,
and knowing that avoiding too much overtime meant I couldn't work Hanford's ceremony as hard, I saved the nice overhead shot for the Falcons to provide some visual contrast between the two:
The best part of commencement, however, is usually the worst part of other ceremonies, so Hanford wins Best Presentations.
Valedictorian Leonie Oostrom had a clever speech that also poked fun of the faux inspiration that fills other 4.00s' addresses. It was funny and engaging (a rarity when you listen to so many in a weekend) and she ended by noting that this was the part where she should quote a song before slowly deadpanning, "Na na na na. Na na na na. Hey hey hey. Goodbye."
Science teacher Evan Woodward was the honored speaker who also had a funny and thought-provoking speech that also included a small explosion that delighted the adolescent pyro in me:
And graduate Tommy Cassidy performed the class song Memories with local musician Frazer Wambeke:
The cool part was that the senior class had voted for Cassidy to write a class song instead of voting on the usual sentimental selections you hear.
Tri-Cities Prep apparently also produces great graduation preparation too, a very welcome attribute since it was my final graduation and they have very long ceremonies in their dungeon-lit gym. For that, they win Best Pre-Gamers.
The small, tight-knit graduating class had fun photos to take,
along with naps,
We ran the shot of them playing a hockey game, but it was a toss-up between that one and this shot that showed off the shaved "11"s a little better:
The stronger moment won out. The grads also had a nice sport-like cheer,
before heading into the dark, where I finally pulled off a cool slow shutter snag of another photographer's flash:
I'd failed with psychedelic results the day before at the Toyota Center:
Prosser wins Most Photogenic this year. Part of that was the perfect weather, but the bigger factor was that they prepared at the school,
before making the trek to Art Fiker Stadium, holding up traffic along the way:
The changes in scenery were very welcome, especially after two ceremonies in a row at the Toyota Center the night before, and the Mustang red was fun to play with, whether finding crimson splashes in the crowd,
or a sea of red graduates:
Even a mundane event like the national anthem looks cool against the blue sky:
And hiking up to the top of the stadium was worth the view, with the Horse Heaven Hills serving as backdrop:
Unfortunately, I couldn't stay too long since I had Ki-Be's ceremony, which wins my award for Best Graduation this year. The great weather continued and it only took an hour from Pomp and Circumstance to Silly String:
The administration took a sensible approach to the graduation celebration (much like I saw at Connell last year), and provided cans to graduates as long as they remained respectful during the ceremony. Superintendent Rom Castilleja even got caught in the fray:
Despite the short ceremony, they covered the usual bases, though, including honoring all scholarship winners like David Gonzales,
and kicking off its presentation of diplomas with Areli Roman, 21, who started in the school's special education program when she was 3:
"When she came to us, we thought she'd never talk," said her first teacher, Judi Harding, "but now we can't get her to be quiet."
The small stage also made it easy to swing from one side, where I could capture excitement and anxiety before taking the stage,
as well as post-diploma hugs, such as this shot of Valedictorian Erin McElroy embracing Principal Wayne Barrett:
And while I didn't get the best angle for the hat toss,
I chased a balloon-toting family for a few yards to snap a pretty gallery closer:
Another year, another set of tomorrow's leaders entering the world. After five years of doing this, I hate to say that there weren't any lessons I felt I learned except that I need to constantly push myself to shoot less conventionally. It's hard not to slip into autopilot sometimes, though, and while I'm happy with my take, I could always be happier.
I'm not about to do a flip or anything.
And in terrible news...
Olympian photographer Tony Overman's struggles with anarchists continues with recent vandalism at his home and at the office. He believes these attacks stem from the misconception that he is working with police to help lock up anarchists at public rallies when the truth is that he's simply photographing people doing illegal things during public events.
Tony is the past president of the National Press Photographer's Association and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. With so many jaded veterans in the biz, it's always nice to see somebody who can keep up his enthusiasm. My hope is that this experience doesn't change that. Judging by this radio interview he did, it doesn't sound like it will.
Here's hoping he can get a good night's sleep soon.
And more alarming news on the First Amendment front: in Tennessee it will soon be "illegal to transmit, display or otherwise communicate images that will 'frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress' for viewers." Check out this post over at dvafoto.