'Finally!' Class of 2003 exits

James Jorgensen, 17, right, looked cool in a pair of sunglasses during the sweltering graduation ceremony Saturday at Coupeville High School. - Marina Parr
James Jorgensen, 17, right, looked cool in a pair of sunglasses during the sweltering graduation ceremony Saturday at Coupeville High School.
— image credit: Marina Parr

As Coupeville High School seniors fidgeted in their caps and gowns Saturday afternoon outside the high school’s gym, many were visibly sweating.

Sure, nerves were a bit frayed over this much fretted about piece of pomp and circumstance. But mostly it was the heat. An unseasonably warm Whidbey Island June day had parents, friends and relatives inside the auditorium vigorously flapping their programs.

“I want to get this over with,” said Scott Fisher, 18. “It’s really hot.”

Nearby stood James Jorgensen, 17, the picture of cool in a glinting pair of sunglasses.

With summer sandals poking out from beneath many a black gown, the 90 or so graduating seniors from the class of 2003 exuded that time-honored mix of get-me-out-of-here bravado and last-minute clinginess that comes with spending the better part of a dozen years with the same group of people.

In the small town of Coupeville, many students grow up with one another, passing through each grade with a substantial core of friends. A montage of photos that flashed on an auditorium screen showed this passage of time, as if it were the blink of an eye, which to many parents’ reckoning it was.

Class co-valedictorians, Erica Lamb and Brianne King, along with salutatorian, Lindsey Tucker, often returned to the joys of childhood but the need to press on to adulthood in their joint speech. They told their classmates to hold onto the sense of wonder that comes from experiencing things for the first time.

“I don’t think we are as different from our first-grade selves as we believe,” King said.

Perhaps with that in mind, senior class advisor Rod Merrell called for a cap check moments before the seniors were allowed to step inside the gym to finish off their high school career. “Everybody show me the tops of your heads,” he said, as he quickly walked between the two lines of students, looking for any stray bit of teen-age tomfoolery taped to their tops.

“They would never do something nasty. We just want it to look classy,” Merrell confided.

Soon after, the students marched single file in twin lines into the gym as cameras flashed and well-wishers cheered. The two lines met near the band, then the students paired up, linking arms as they made the final walk down the center aisle to their seats.

This year’s graduation was actually a “community milestone,” according to Principal Phyllis Textor.

A bit of digging into the school’s archives turned up this historical nugget: the class of 2003 was the 100th class to graduate from Coupeville High School.

The high school was built, Textor said, after eight students completed eighth grade in 1900. Four years later, in 1904, the first class graduated two students.

That’s a 25 percent graduation rate, Textor observed with some humor. These days the school more typically sees an 85-percent graduation rate.

Textor said this year’s seniors were an especially socially conscious group.

She called them a “turning point generation in our history,” and said they were well-equipped to handle the challenges of today’s turbulent times.

One student’s mother, a sailor in the U.S. Navy, brought the current uneasiness over world events into quick focus. Candace Keech, a petty officer first class, was given the special opportunity to watch her daughter, Priscilla Farrington, receive a diploma and snap her picture before quickly leaving the gymnasium and heading out on a six-month deployment for the Middle East.

This ceremony within a ceremony had Farrington getting up from her seat and being handed her diploma ahead of time.

Farrington, 17, who has plans to become an elementary school teacher, sat down to applause. But not before she hugged her mother tightly, fighting back fierce tears.

Adulthood for these seniors suddenly didn’t seem so far away.

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