Together all the way

"In a school district where the student turnover changes by as much as 15 percent each year between kindergarten and 12th-grade, long-term school friendships are hard to come by. But as they walked side-by-side into commencement exercises Monday night, Oak Harbor High School seniors Heather Tremblay and Lynn Kulpa celebrated not only their graduation, but also a friendship that has lasted since they were tiny tots. I asked if she would walk with me back at the beginning of the year, said Kulpa of her nearly lifelong friend just prior to Monday's ceremony. We walked together on our first day at kindergarten and we'll walk together on the last day of our senior year.It means so much, Tremblay added. I know I'm going to cry.She did. They both did.With so many students tied to military families, Oak Harbor district students have gotten used to seeing classmates come and go, and sometimes come back and go again. Student surveys show that only about 40 to 45 percent of district eighth graders have been with the district since kindergarten.We're a very mobile society. It's not just for Navy reasons. said Superintendent Rick Schulte, explaining that, on average, about 10 percent of students statewide move each year. My impression is we're above average but not as much as people think.Just the same, the turnover makes it hard to form ties that bind. Kulpa and Tremblay were next-door neighbors when they first met more than 15 years ago. They used to play together on the Kulpa family's backyard swing set or in the sandbox. But the Tremblay's, a military family, moved away for a couple years and when they returned, they were no longer right next door. As the two girls moved through school they started sharing fewer and fewer classes and their circles of friends and interests didn't always overlap. But they say they have always been there for each other when it counted. We always come back together, Tremblay said.She's like a constant, said Kulpa. She's been family. She's been 'Cousin Heather' for so long.Only three days apart in age, Kulpa and Tremblay see no reason to say goodbye to their friendship after graduation. They both plan to attend Skagit Valley College next year and both hope to pursue education careers, Kulpa as a teacher for the deaf and Tremblay as an elementary school teacher.I plan to have her in my wedding ... whenever that is, Tremblay said of her cohort.For now though, the biggest moment came when they flipped their mortarboard tassels from one side to the other announcing their passage into a new life.It's a great moment to share together, Tremblay said."

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