Quilcene gym lit by the glow of two dozen stars | Class of 2022

Posted 6/17/22

Bunnies and magic, mixed with tears and cheers.

The Quilcene community came together Saturday to celebrate the 24 graduating seniors of the Class of 2022 in a gymnasium packed with parents, …

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Quilcene gym lit by the glow of two dozen stars | Class of 2022


Bunnies and magic, mixed with tears and cheers.

The Quilcene community came together Saturday to celebrate the 24 graduating seniors of the Class of 2022 in a gymnasium packed with parents, families, and friends, and the welcoming sounds of “Hey Look Ma I Made It” by Panic! At The Disco.

From the opening moments of the commencement ceremony, with the spectacular rendition of the National Anthem by Eryn Grace Munn and Savanna Smith, the near-capacity crowd were treated to something special.

Smith, salutatorian for the Class of 2022, flipped the ever-present question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” inside out.

Instead, she asked, who do you want to be?

“A person’s value is not based on how many accomplishments they have or how much money they make,” Smith told the crowd and her fellow graduates. “We can draw meaning in life by the effect we have on the people around us.”

“Greatness doesn’t have to mean money and fame, it can simply mean leaving the world with a little more hope and kindness than it had before,” she said. 

Bishop Budnek, one of the school’s co-valedictorians, ad-libbed a bit when he followed.

“Wow. The whole town of Quilcene is here. All 40 of you guys,” Budnek joked.

With quotes from basketball great Michael Jordan, former U.S. Senator Barbara Ann Mikulski, and DJ Khaled, Budnek braided inspiration with humor and reflection.

“We made it,” Budnek said.

“For some of my friends up here, I don’t know how you managed to make it this far or how you were able to listen while sleeping in class, but nonetheless, we made it.

“It was as if it was just yesterday, we were all sitting, listening to Mrs. Takamori read the Hobbit as 12 different people copied off the same worksheet,” he added. “It was as if it was just yesterday we were all sitting together at lunch, laughing together as we talked about Coach Beathard and his terrible umpire calls in boomerball.”

Fellow valedictorian Munn underscored the weird wonder of it all.

“It’s strange to be standing here, isn’t it?” Munn asked. “Here in our cap and gowns like poorly dressed wizards in a 12-year-old’s Dungeons and Dragons Campaign.” 

She noted knowing some of her classmates since kindergarten.

“Which is absolutely bonkers,” Munn added. “That’s 12 years. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

With a bittersweet note, she reminded everyone that it’s a wide world, “bigger than this little pond we’ve lived in.”

“But, in all honesty, I think that is one of the best things that can happen to a student from Quilcene,” Munn added. “Oftentimes we grow comfortable in what we find familiar. Familiarity is safe, but I think what we need to remember is that the world is wider than this town. We must take a breath and dive into that scary, strange ocean of reality — at least for a while.

Some of her fellow seniors would be going to college, or other states, or even just Seattle for a few days sometimes, she said, but there will always be home.

“My mother always told me I had to leave, but I could always come home. I think that’s a sentiment everyone from Quilcene should carry with them,” Munn said.

English teacher Cailey Takamori gave the commencement address, detailing each of the graduates in a heartfelt speech she came well-equipped for. She set a tissue box down next to the microphone before starting. “These are for me.”

Takamori recalled starting her teaching career as a student teacher in Katie Allen’s class, and her time as a coach over the past four years.

Behind her sat the three rows of graduates.

Kevin Alejo, a three-sport athlete and college-bound football player. Budnek, the loud-volume leader. Ashton Johnston, the Rangers’ biggest hype man. The multi-talented Sean Boone. Dalen McBride, D&D enthusiast. The fearless Christian Barney.

Luis “Tony” Roman, “one of the wittiest kids I have ever met.” Melissa Hayden, one of the quietest kids in class. Serious student Savannah Gallaway. Clutch teammate Teagan Graunke, whose crucial hit sent the softball team to state. Jokester Gavin Look. Estrella Rodriguez; expressive, artistic, compassionate. 

Jakob Miller: “The first student who fell asleep in my class.”

Munn, the one who smuggled baby bunnies into her class, more than once. Fashion icon Nathan Soderberg. Drummer and talented soul Ewan LeRest.

Smith, a state-level singer. The ever-independent Natalie Coffey. The so-strong Kayla Ward. Megan Jones; quiet, thoughtful, and cool. Shelby Love, three-sport senior and class president. Bridget Hitt, behind-the-scenes planner.

“High school is a time where we grow and find those passions and personalities,” Takamori said.

People, however, change as they move into other roles and places.

“Which is totally OK,” she added. “If we were all the same as we were in high school, I wouldn’t even be able to speak in front of a classroom, much less give a speech in front of a community.”

“Growth and change are a part of life. All I ask is that you don’t lose what makes you you,” she said, sharing her immense pride for each student.

“Thank you all for the past four years, for a great start to my career,” Takamori said. “I am happy that in a way, I am graduating out with you all.”

As “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles played, the graduates left the platform to hand out dozens of roses to family, friends, and loved ones. The presentation of diplomas followed. Tassels turned.

And finally, before Principal Sean Moss could finish his final farewell, the graduation caps flew skyward.

One of the caps fell not far from his feet. And on the top, in gold sticky capital letters, the message: “And to those I love ... Thanks for sticking around.”