'Hope' is the buzzword of Oak Harbor graduation

Immah Harless and Jenna Marin brave wind gusts through Wildcat Memorial Stadium during Oak Harbor High School’s graduation ceremony that took place Monday. - Nathan Whalen / Whidbey News-Times
Immah Harless and Jenna Marin brave wind gusts through Wildcat Memorial Stadium during Oak Harbor High School’s graduation ceremony that took place Monday.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen / Whidbey News-Times

Cari Brady spent her last night as an Oak Harbor High School senior, lying awake in bed and questioning the concept of graduation.

“Like many students, I Wikipedia-ed it,” she said. “It said, ‘Graduation is the action of receiving or conferring an academic degree or the associated ceremony.’ But graduation is more than a ceremony. It’s 12 years of accumulated work, hope and friends.”

At Monday’s outdoor graduation ceremony at Wildcat Memorial Stadium, hope was the “buzzword.” It’s a central issue in American politics today, and according to many of the speakers, it is the basis of these graduates’ survival.

Hundreds gathered on that blustery night. In the stands, several parents bundled up in blankets and looked as if they were attending a November varsity football game rather than a June graduation ceremony.

Students hugged their heads to keep caps from flying off and a purple carpet seniors walked on whipped up and rolled away. Black-gown clad administrators wrangled the runaway carpet before it blew too far.

The nervous energy outside the stadium was palpable, minutes before the ceremony began.

As the audience screamed, the graduates lined-up along the gate echoed the scream and laughed.

Attendees Suzanne, Tim and Jennifer Fender stood with their faces pressed to the gate, to watch graduate Matt Eldridge file in.

“He’s Jennifer’s best friend and you could call him our adopted son. Basically Matt is the son of a good friend of ours. His parents moved to St. Louis and he’s staying here. He’s from our church,” Tim said.

Eldridge is currently working at Albertsons but has plans for the Army.

“We’re so proud. He’s the first kid from his family to graduate on time,” Suzanne said.

Benjamin Olson, the Class of 2008’s top graduate who finished his high school career with a 4.0 grade point average, began the ceremony with his thoughts on hope and its definition.

“I think it’s a strong desire for what we have now,” Olson told the crowd bundled up in the Wildcat Memorial Stadium stands. Some may have been yearning for the old days, when everyone crowded into the overheated Parker Hall for graduation.

Referring to high school, Olson said, “I just took it one day at a time and hoped for the best that it would all work out.”

Olson was voted “Outstanding Boy” and Nicole Bouchard was named “Outstanding Girl.”

In the following speech, Jake Ford joked that all he hoped for is that the wind would stop blowing. He said that hope for him used to be childhood desires such as ice cream and bicycles. Now, hope is more serious.

“With you, I impart two hopes. Never shy away from the big world around us. Know that we will make a difference,” he said.

Cari Brady cited Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding, Morgan Freeman’s character in the Shawshank Redemption. Brady drew parallels between the dependency Redding felt in the film and the dependency she felt ending her high school career. For her, the moment was bittersweet.

“When we first entered high school, we were scared by the sight of the building. But now we have it figured out; like what is edible in the cafeteria. Like Morgan Freeman said in Shawshank Redemption, ‘These walls are funny. First you hate them, then you get used to them. Enough time passes, it gets so you depend on them’.”

Brady closed with a reference to Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” speech, saying that hope is the face of uncertainty and a belief that there are better days ahead.

“Do not let tonight be the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. Make tonight the best time of your life,” she said.

Principal Dwight Lundstrom noted that the Class of 2008 with its 320 seniors had more demands put on them than any other senior class to receive a diploma. In addition to the 23 credits they needed to pass, graduates also had to pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, develop a high school and beyond plan and complete a senior project.

He also highlighted the more than $4 million worth of scholarships students in this year’s graduating class earned.

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