Arlington-area high school seniors graduate

The Weston High School Class of 2014 celebrated its graduation in the Byrnes Performing Arts Center June 4. - Kirk Boxleitner
The Weston High School Class of 2014 celebrated its graduation in the Byrnes Performing Arts Center June 4.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — After a dozen or more years of primary and secondary education, the high school seniors of Arlington graduated over the course of three consecutive days, starting with Weston High School's 20-member Class of 2014 on June 4.

Just as Principal Annie Verellen-Grubbs called upon the graduates to "think different," so did class speaker Jacob Allen express his gratitude to the staff and faculty for allowing him and his classmates to succeed through different avenues.

"Thank you, Arlington, for giving kids like me a place to go to school when, for whatever reason, we don't fit in at the regular high school," said Allen, who also thanked his parents for standing by him. "I was not the easiest child to raise."

Although their graduation marks the official end of their childhoods, Allen observed that the Weston seniors are already adults in many ways.

"I have a job and a family of my own to grow and be responsible for," Allen said. "I have plans for the future."

Allen closed his remarks with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever," before fellow class speaker Hannah Maris touted the resilience of her classmates.

"It takes courage to stand alone and not follow the easy path so many others follow," Maris said. "For the most part, Weston students have not walked an easy path. All around me are students who have fought health issues or living conditions, or simply just wanted to be the unique person he or she aspires to be."

Maris was already sure that she would fail high school when she was still in middle school, but her sister Megan encouraged her to join her at Weston. Jennifer Marsh, one of Hannah's teachers, suggested that she might even be able to graduate early.

"I did not want to walk into high school knowing I was already a failure," Maris said. "I stand here tonight, at the age of sixteen, graduating from high school one year early."

Maris echoed Verellen-Grubbs by asserting that "most great ideas came from those who chose the unusual path."

Weston valedictorian Caitlyn O'Neill was not among the speakers, but Stillaguamish Valley School valedictorian Rikki Haugen and salutatorian Elizabeth Bennett were set to deliver speeches during their graduation ceremony June 5.

Haugen admitted that she, like many of her classmates, remains uncertain how to answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Although her earlier aspirations included "princess" and "rock star," Haugen now revels in being undecided about her future.

"This isn't our time to make hard and fast decisions," Haugen said. "It's our time to make mistakes. Take the wrong train, get stuck somewhere and chill. Don't follow other people's paths. Create your own.

"Fall in love, a lot," she added. "Major in something you know there's no way to make a career out of. Change your mind. Then change it again, because nothing is permanent."

Bennett believes that her schooling complemented the lessons of her upbringing as a farmer, which helped foster a sense of responsibility in her. Indeed, she not only attended multiple high schools — including, Arlington, Weston and Marysville-Pilchuck — but also put off a chance to graduate early, just so she could remain in the Future Farmers of America.

"Life is full of decisions that are only once in a lifetime," Bennett said. "My morals have guided me to make the right decision in times when I could have chosen the wrong decision very easily."

Although Bennett has worked odd jobs since she was 14 and was first officially employed at 16, she still has the same answer to the question, "How does it feel to be an adult?"

"I always say, 'I'll let you know when I become one,'" said Bennett, now 18. "Being an adult isn't just about how old you are, because being an adult has more to do with maturity than age.

"I've met some people who are adults that, if they were younger, could pass for children because they have the spirit of a young child — free and wild, flowing like the wind, dirty hands and a clean soul," she added. "I hope I never grow up."

June 6 saw Highland Christian School bid farewell to its nine graduating seniors, as Valedictorian Abby Cloutier planned to quote Dr. Seuss' "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" as a call for self-determination.

"I have learned that I am the one who defines my own future," Cloutier said. "Every decision I make is contributing to the greater existence of myself and the people around me.

"I have to passionately pursue the things I love, inexhaustibly fight for justice and steer my life in a direction that will guide me to a purpose I am proud of," she added.

Cloutier credited her peers with ushering her into a path of lifelong personal growth.

"Learning is a compass that guides us to self-discovery," Cloutier said. "As long as we stay open to that bright, burning light, we will never be disappointed in who we are or the legacy that we leave behind."

Salutatorian Taylor Smoots extended Cloutier's thanks to Highland Christian's families and faculty.

"The relationships we formed here in high school, with teachers and fellow classmates, are unlike any other," Smoots said. "Because of the small school environment, we truly have gotten to know everyone.

"As we go off to college, the military and the work world, we will have many choices before us," she added. "I know we will remember what we learned from our mentors here at Highland and be ready to face whatever comes our way."

Smoots emphasized how central such relationships are to one's life.

"We will get wrapped up in our plans, but we must not forget the most important thing is the relationships you make with others," Smoots said, "the love of your family, the friendships you have made here at Highland, and the ones you will make in the future. Love God, love one another and love yourself."

The Arlington and Lakewood high school graduating classes of 2014 also conducted their ceremonies on June 6, too late for press time.

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