MARYSVILLE — Hundreds of students bounced, threw their hands in the air and cheered while loud music pounded through the speakers, filling the gym of Marysville Pilchuck High School.
Spirit flags waved in the air, mascots ran across the gym and students tossed granola bars to their peers in the bleachers. A large banner hung from the ceiling. It said “Find Your Grind.”
Marysville Pilchuck students have hosted an annual Interhigh — a leadership event that brings together teens and teachers from all over Western Washington — for 15 years. On Tuesday, they held their largest such event yet.
More than 2,000 students were in attendance, organizers said. They came from more than three dozen schools. Some were invited from neighboring districts: Arlington, Stanwood, Lake Stevens. The list of schools also included some that are farther away, such as Sehome High in Bellingham and Tumwater High south of Olympia.
Interhigh is a chance for students and advisers to swap ideas about fundraisers, events, assemblies and ways to improve the quality of student life on their campuses, said Josh Roehl, a teacher and adviser at Marysville Pilchuck. They gain energy and momentum from each other.
Roehl hopes the students feel confident that they can make a change in their peers’ lives.
“We want them to leave here feeling like they can conquer the world, and to bring that back to their schools,” he said.
Susana Barbosa, 18, is senior class president at Marysville Pilchuck. She wanted Interhigh to encourage unity among schools, even those that might be rivals in sports or other competitions.
“We can set aside all that rivalry and just build a bond as a big family,” she said.
Daniel Amador, 17, is president of the MPHS student government. He helped coordinate and set up for Interhigh. The theme “Find Your Grind” is about finding your passion and pursuing it, he said.
“No matter what the circumstances, no matter where you come from, no matter who you are, you can be something great,” he said. “If you’re a misfit and you don’t fit in with the crowd, it doesn’t mean you’re not important. You are.”
He knows what it’s like to feel out of place, he said. His parents immigrated from Mexico and he said there was a time when negative stereotypes about immigrants made him feel like he didn’t want to come from a Mexican family.
“But I gotta be me,” he said. “I am who I am.”
Lourdes Lynelle Fuga, 17, came to Interhigh from Bothell High School. The 17-year-old is part of student leadership there. She was decked out in blue, white and black clothes and face paint.
“My goal in (the Associated Student Body) is just to get everyone into school spirit and make the junior class the best class,” she said.
Interhigh was a positive experience because she was able to meet so many people, she said.
There are smaller quarterly Interhigh events at other schools in the region, but Tuesday’s was the big annual gathering, Roehl said. It featured a motivational speaker as well as games and group work.
“For me, it’s inspiring to see this group of student leaders,” Roehl said. “It just instills this confidence that we’re going to be OK. These are tomorrow’s leaders, and we’re going to be OK.”