As maroon and green caps exploded skyward at the 50-yard line of Qwest Field on June 12, the career of 409 Eastlake high school seniors came to an end.
But the road had just begun for the graduating class of 2008, student speaker Daniel Castro noted.
“We are free to go out and do something great — to create, draw, bend, build, produce,” Castro said. “The future is ours. Ladies and gentlemen, the future is yours.”
The themes of promise and possibility echoed throughout the two-hour ceremony — Eastlake High School’s 14th commencement.
Perhaps no one emphasized the sentiment with more passion than humanities teacher and assistant football coach Don Bartel. Bartel is departing for Enumclaw High School next year to become the Hornets’ new head football coach. He left the class of 2008 with a lasting impression as he crumpled his speech up, stepped off the stage and carried the microphone into the middle of the graduates. Speaking from the heart, Bartel challenged the seniors to look within themselves and to always strive for the best — even if it means disappointing someone else.
“Are you willing to stand in the center of the fire and not shrink away from the flames?” he asked. “All I know is that you have one obligation in life, and that is to evolve. To be better in a year than you are today. To be better in 20 years than you ever thought you’d be.”
The ceremony also featured reflections from senior speaker Matt Villeneuve and two original musical performances from graduates Owen Barnes and Cameron Hodges.
Barnes’ self-titled “All I want to do is graduate” was a light-hearted reflection of time spent at Eastlake, all done on acoustic guitar. He said afterward that performing in the center of Qwest Field might have been the most nerve-wracking thing he had ever done — but one of the most rewarding.
“Definitely this was the largest crowd I’ve ever performed in front of,” he said. “I’m just so excited. It’s really special.”
Eastlake didn’t recognize a valedictorian as many schools do, but it did honor one student with the EHS Staff Scholarship — an award that honors exceptional school involvement and outstanding personal qualities. Almeera Anwar, a member of the Honor Society and International Thespian Society, won the award. She was recognized for several achievements, including being an active member of the Children’s Hospital Guild and organizing Relay for Life at Eastlake. Other nominees included J.J. Clark, Lauren Hawkins and Anisha Gulabani.
As the graduates departed the ceremony into the tunnel past the Seahawks’ locker room, hugs, high-fives and happy screams were shared all around.
Members of the Eastlake Troika — a group of three seniors who oversee the student government — reflected on their time at Eastlake.
“I just feel kind of relieved that I’m done, happy,” Alyssa Jergens said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet.”
Adam Bender and Danny Kesl, the other two Troika members, have worked in student government together since junior high. Bender is headed to the University of Southern California to major in journalism, and Kesl is headed to Western Washington University where he would like to focus on special education.
“We’re really happy to graduate, but sad to be leaving each other,” Kesl said.
Bender agreed, noting that he will particularly miss one special attribute about Eastlake’s class of 2008.
“There’s no groups, and there’s no shortage of personalities,” he said. “We’re a pretty close-knit class. I could literally hang out with everyone in this class.”