Graduation marks milestone for family

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give permission for others to do the same, senior Ashley Bass told hundreds of newly minted Oak Harbor High School graduates Monday.

The ceremony was history in the making for Bass, who was the first in her family of eight siblings to graduate from high school. She is the second to youngest.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s a feeling I never imagined,” she said.

Thousands of spectators filed into Wildcat Memorial Stadium that evening to congratulate 335 seniors who donned caps and gowns — some tricked out with shells and baubles.

This year’s class featured five valedictorians, who topped their class with 4.0 grade point averages. Principal Dwight Lundstrom said the graduates earned roughly $3 million in scholarships and grants. Additionally, 99 students received awards, 63 graduated with a 3.5 GPA or higher and six students are leaving high school with their associate’s degree.

As they approached the podium, many of the students chose to emphasize perseverance. It’s been a long road for seniors, who have persevered through finals, the big game, breakups and detentions. And for some, perseverance meant overcoming incredible setbacks.

Bass was only in her eighth grade year when her mother passed away, and the following year, she lost her father.

During the school day, Bass sought solace from high school receptionist Karen White.

“Her dad had also passed away, so she could talk to me about it,” Bass said.

While being cared for by an older brother, Bass went on to become a varsity cheerleader at OHHS for two years, she joined the Link Crew (a program that helps freshmen adjust to high school) and she spent years volunteering for Oak Harbor Elementary School’s nursing station.

“That was my first step to becoming a doctor. I helped with scrapes and bandages,” Bass said.

She plans to earn her transfer degree from Skagit Valley College and attend the University of Washington, to study medicine.

Before the ceremony, Lundstrom handed her a handwritten letter and patted her on the back. The high school faculty describe Bass as “positive” and “energetic,” and many have formed a close bond with her.

“Oh wow. He’s going to make me cry,” she said, of her note.

Bass kept the crowd entertained with funny memories of high school during the ceremony, which to everyone’s relief, was mild and sunny. Last year’s inaugural ceremony in the new stadium was marred by strong winds.

In her speech, valedictorian Caitlin Forster tied in games from her childhood, as an example of learning dedication early.

“Perseverance is when you keep playing even when you have the Old Maid in your hand,” she said.

Kimberly Mowbray quoted her best friend’s MySpace profile in a speech.

“Enjoy the present, each moment, as it comes; because you’ll never get another one quite like it. And if you should ever look up and find yourself lost, simply take a breath and start over.”

The graduates filed down a walkway two-by-two after accepting their degrees, and stopped for a pose. Many decided to high five, dance, jump wildly in the air or just embrace their friends.

Following the ceremony, the teens exited behind the stadium to celebrate with their closest friends and family. Bass said her entire family turned out for the affair, including extended relatives.

“I’m the first one to graduate and being successful in my family means a lot,” Bass said. “My younger sister already has full intentions to go to Western Washington University.”

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