The McCurdy Pavilion at Fort Worden saw a packed house for the 125th commencement ceremony for Port Townsend High School on the evening of June 7. At 69, this graduating class was the smallest in …
The McCurdy Pavilion at Fort Worden saw a packed house for the 125th commencement ceremony for Port Townsend High School on the evening of June 7. At 69, this graduating class was the smallest in over a decade, but one with many accomplishments and achievements under their belts.
ASB Executive President Jules Short called her class “remarkable” in her opening speech alongside senior class president Story Walsh.
“You can see by the array of colors and medals decorating the students up here that most of them are a part of something,” she said, motioning towards the stoles and cords draped over the students, dressed in robes of white and red. “It is unique that we have such a high level of involvement in a variety of activities, and that students feel comfortable taking part in what they love to do.”
When principal Carrie Ehrhardt asked students who took part in after-school clubs, activities and sports to rise, almost the entire class stood up. Students were then recognized for participation in their specific sport or activity, which ranged from advanced culinary class to mock trial. Among those recognized were students who broke school, district or conference records in their sport, the sixteen students who received scholarships from their colleges or local organizations to attend college, and Short along with Gabe Petrick, Raphael Bakin and Henry Stier, members of the 2019 PTHS state knowledge bowl champion team.
There were 20 students wearing honor cords, representing a cumulative GPA of 3.33 or above throughout their high school years. Five students were recognized for attaining an academic letter for 2 years with a GPA of 3.8 or above.
Ehrhardt made a special note to honor the three students, Zach Dempsey, Rosalyn Salmon and Tiger Varah, who are the first people in their family to graduate high school, and Callay Boire-Shedd and Walsh, who graduated with their Associate’s Degrees from Peninsula College through the Running Start Program.
“You may be small in numbers but you are mighty in courage, perseverance and soul,” said Ehrhardt.
“Each of you walk your own individual path, and for some, I know that path has been tough,” Ehrhardt said to them. “Some of you have battled homelessness, or you’ve gone to treatment to deal with an addiction. Some of you have suffered tragedy and loss of a family member or close friend. Some of you have had to persevere through significant medical or emotional health issues. And some of you have worked so hard to overcome learning challenges and disability.
“But through those struggles, you still got out of bed and faced the day, you did your best, and you worked as hard as you could. You showed up to school, even though for some of you, the school system did not always flex to meet your needs. You’ve maintained hope, a sense of humor, and the belief that you could do it...that the diploma was worth it.”
Valedictorian Raphael Bakin attempted to tie in lessons learned from Lord of the Flies and Hamlet into his speech, two texts studied in high school, in order to make his speech more practical for his class’s post-grad life.
After giving grim synopses of their themes, Bakin concluded that the lessons drawn from those works are too dark for a recent graduate to have weighing on their minds, and perhaps opting for happy cliches is the best choice after all.
He then reflected on the challenges posed to a “privileged,” 17 year old high school senior in trying to provide worldly insight on any topic, and decided to not try, and instead speak to the small victories in life that he’s observed over the last four years, victories that he believes prepared him and his class to take on life’s challenges. These include:
“Classmates working together to understand challenging literature.
Classmates battling together on the athletic fields, or in knowledge bowl classrooms.
Classmates debating world problems in Model United Nations.
Classmates standing together to protest the lack of climate change action.”
Salutatorian Annika Carlson said Port Townsend students have an advantage thanks to the open-minded community surrounding them.
“Because Port Townsend High School is so small, it’s easy to look at all of the opportunities it couldn’t give us,” she said. “I know I’ve been guilty of this. However, it is inarguable that being raised in PT gave us the ability to be who we want to be, something for which I’ll forever be grateful.”
Teacher Ben Dow gave his usual poem incorporating each graduating class member, this year imagining what roles his students could play in the production of the recent Avengers movie.
Class-selected speaker Ian Kjelgaard garnered the most laughs from his classmates, recounting the adventures his class had and the hurdles they had to overcome together. The faculty and administration laughed along or at the least smiled politely as he poked fun at them.
Kjelgaard balanced his humor with sincere words on his journey from a freshman who had been homeschooled his whole life, to being selected to speak for his class at graduation.
Faculty-selected speaker Ben Mattern prompted a lot of laughter as well from the packed McCurdy Pavilion with his story about his childhood superhero alter ego, Naked Man, and the lessons in self esteem and love that can be drawn from him, especially in an age where technology can instill unrealistic standards of perfection in peoples’ minds.
With such a small class, the graduates were able to take their time as they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, hugging and high-fiving their friends, some popping off streamers.
After throwing their hats into the air, the students emptied out onto the adjacent Littlefield Green, where families took photos with their graduate.
It wasn’t long before the fresh alumni began trickling across the field and disappearing into the Rhododendron Garden to catch a bus to senior night at the Elks Lodge, in what would be their last time together as a group until they arrive at the Port Townsend Alumni Association’s annual June get-together, which is also held at the Elk’s Lodge.