Graduates reflect on more than tragedy at MPHS ceremony

EVERETT — Corbin Ferry had one goal the first day of his freshman year at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

He wanted to look cool.

So he put on a pair of jeans and a Converse T-shirt, stuck an earbud in one ear and let the other dangle.

That was four years ago.

It’s hard to say if he succeeded at looking cool. He did, however, manage to get lost.

When he asked an equally clueless freshmen how to get to Mr. Roberts’ class, his friend sent him to the far end of the sprawling campus. It was only when Ferry got back to his original starting point that he realized he had been standing right outside the classroom where he was supposed to be when he asked for directions.

Ferry laughs at the memory now. In some ways, it was a metaphor for his high school experience. He found himself along the way.

Ferry was one of roughly 270 seniors at MPHS to take part in commencement at Xfinity Arena in Everett on Wednesday. It is one of many graduations occurring across Snohomish County.

The ceremony included valedictorian speeches by Jacob Bansberg, Kendall McCoy, Emily Dunston, Jennifer Baxter and Sierra Price, reflections from Jazmyn Allen and Selena Tyler and an upbeat address, given in rap, by class President Nicholas Alonso, who earned an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

In her reflections speech, Tyler’s message of cherishing life resonated with the crowd.

She told the story of a child whose father was murdered and whose mother died five years later.

“Who is this girl?” she asked. “I am this girl.”

In calm, determined words, she implored her classmates to be thankful for every day.

“Life is what we make of it,” she said.

Each MPHS graduate has their own story, but they all share one tragic chapter. They watched their school become national news after a freshman shot five classmates, killing four, in the school cafeteria in October. The teen shooter also killed himself.

Wednesday’s graduates felt the embrace of their school and their community in the weeks and months after the tragedy.

As graduation day approached, Jessica Hinkle remembered the connection with her volleyball teammates, how they came together and cried as one.

Sebastian Navarro recalled looking up in the stands during a state semifinal football game in Tacoma and feeling an entire community behind the school.

Kia Patrick, a drummer in the school band, described a united campus and how she “never felt more accepted and able to be myself.”

In the days after the shootings, Ferry would go out of his way to drive slowly down State Avenue. It seemed a sea of red and white ribbons. He’d soak in each caring message on the reader boards.

At the same time, the graduates refuse to let the tragedy define them and their class. References made during the graduation ceremony were discreet.

There was so much more to their high school experience.

The new graduates share tales of growing up and learning to fit in, often with a teacher, counselor or fellow students helping them along the way.

For Navarro, who enrolled at MPHS his sophomore year, it was math teacher Keri Austin. She gave the new kid on campus a place to eat lunch when he really didn’t know anyone.

Hinkle, who has signed up for the National Guard, recalls the day during her sophomore year when English teacher Bill Hodgins stopped her.

“I was going through a tough time and he pulled me aside and gave me words of wisdom when I really needed it,” she said. “It was just really nice to know that someone cared.”

Patrick remembered how confusing the campus seemed her freshman year and walking into the wrong classroom. She soon found a home in the band’s percussion section.

“I really felt connected to the school when the seniors reached out to me,” she said. “They would teach me how to go about things the right way.”

What people don’t know about the Class of 2015 is the adversity many have faced growing up, Ferry said.

“We have all learned to overcome hardship,” he said.

His parents divorced. When he was in the sixth grade, his home burned down. The family’s possessions were destroyed. He learned a life lesson that day that has sunk in and been reinforced many times since.

“The awards I have won along the way, they sit in my room and gather dust, but my relationships with the people I have met, that’s what really matters,” Ferry said a couple of days before graduation.

“Love doesn’t fail.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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