West Linn High School graduates celebrate endings and beginnings
by: vern uyetake Kaitlyn Jones, left and Jade Chang toss their caps in the air along with the rest of the graduating class of 2011 during Tuesday's commencement ceremony.

Rich with circumstance and rife with pomp, the West Linn High School graduation held Tuesday night at the Chiles Center at the University of Portland was an evening of thoughtful endings and joyous beginnings.

The more than 350 students poised to start their lives, accepted their diplomas and said farewell to retiring Superintendent Roger Woehl, the man who has been at the helm of the district since the year they were born.

'When I came to the district in 1993, we asked ourselves how will we educate this generation?' Woehl said in his final commencement speech. 'Our mission was to create great thinkers, … and thoughtful people for the world. … I'm confident that you will all carry this mission forward.'

The class of WLHS class of 2011 is eager to do just that.

'They will represent colleges and universities in 35 states around the country including Cal and Vanderbilt, TCU, USC, Harvard and Northwestern,' Lou Bailey, WLHS principal said in his speech. 'They will represent all branches of our armed forces, and attend colleges in five countries.

'And, are you ready for the final count? This year, it is Oregon State 62 to University of Oregon 51.'

And so, for these students, the adventure begins.

'I've lived here my whole life and spent all 12 years in the district,' Jake Lutes said. 'I'm going to the University of Missouri next year where I will know no one at all. I am a little bit of both - happy that I'm going, and sad about leaving all these people I've spent my life with.'

Stephanie Shternberg, who is heading to Boston University in the fall, also recognized that the thrill of going to school on the east coast carried with it the heartache of saying goodbye. 'I won't be seeing all these people much any more.'

For most of the students, however, any sadness at graduation was far outweighed by the pure joy of the evening.

'I've been bouncing off the walls all day,' said Chip Jameson who will go to OSU next year. 'Tonight is the grad party!'

'I'm excited,' said Kyle Harbour, who will be joining the Marines next year. 'It's funny how we all got really close at the end. In the last few months all of these people became my best friends.'

'I'm just excited that I don't have to go back to high school! I'm ready!' said Alyxandria Peterson.

But before the students drove off in their buses for the mystery night of revelry, they listened to several speakers impart wisdom and advice.

Retiring counselor, Tom Swearingen, who was elected by the class of 2011 as Distinguished West Linn High School Educator, reminded the students to 'have an objective view of yourself, and practice humility.'

'I've spent 30 years as an educator and 25 years at West Linn High School,' Swearingen said. 'The class of 2011 is so dear to my heart.'

'The class of 2011 is the best that we've had,' reiterated Bailey in his speech. ' I was there when the mock trial teams competed - and the seniors won. … I listened when the symphonic band brought tears to everyone's eyes ... I got to watch 200 students storm Lake Oswego's home basketball court ... I watch(ed) the girls' golf team, led by two seniors, win back-to-back state championships. ... I hand(ed) out a big check to Ann Bernert for her outstanding scientific research skills ... And I (had) the experience of spending four nights in the school with the Survivor contestants.

'You are the one, the only, the class of 2011.'

Parents and teachers were in accord that there is something very special about this group of students.

'I love this class,' said Diane Gauthier, art teacher. 'They are really friendly with superabundant energy. All year I looked forward to teaching the seniors because they were such a happy group.'

For Debbie and Toby Daniels, graduation is bittersweet.

'Our son, Andrew, is our youngest. We've been involved in the schools in every facet and we've loved it - I guess we'll have to find something else to do now,' Toby said.

The theme of endings and beginnings was returned to several times during the graduation ceremony.

School board member Keith Steele reminded the class of 2011 that there is power in beginnings. That while they are all ending their time at WLHS and leaving their parents' homes, they needn't be afraid. They are about to commence on their epic journey.

'Begin it now,' Steele said.

Tassels turned, mortarboards flew, and with bubbles, beach balls and even a back flip off the stage the class of 2011 graduated. The 5,000 parents and grandparents in attendance beamed with pride.

In his final speech as superintendent, Roger Woehl offered the class of 2011 this parting advice:

Have faith in yourself. Engage in challenges that require courage. Take care of your health and wellness, and remember to play and have fun.

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