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A new beginning

Wilson High School's 19 valedictorians highlight the Class of 2013.


by: CONNECTION PHOTO: DREW DAKESSIAN -

One by one, amid uproarious cheers and a booming rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance,” they filed in. Clad in caps and gowns and beaming, they filled the auditorium floor and stood peering up at the crowd of friends and family above them. This was their moment: they were finally graduating.

The 57th Wilson High School commencement ceremony took place June 12 at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland. Though about seven miles and the Willamette River stood between their soon-to-be alma mater and their commencement site, the ceremony may as well have been back in Hillsdale. The members of the Class of 2013 had with them an invaluable part of the high school experience: each other.

Three-hundred-twenty-five students were set to graduate this year, but at the commencement ceremony, the absence of one of them was poignantly felt. Simply and solemnly, after welcoming graduates and guests to the ceremony, Senior Class Human Relations Director Matan Horenstein asked for a moment of silence for senior Adam LeClair, who died less than a month prior.

When the moment of silence ended, senior class Vice President Alyssa Welty introduced much-needed minutes of song from Wilson High School’s choir, Wilsingers.

“This year we are especially proud of choir, which took first in state,” Welty said, and as it performed “Our Share of Nights to Bear,” a poem by Emily Dickinson set to music arranged by graduate Ethan Conroy, it was easy to see why.

With the last notes of Z. Randall Stroope’s “Omni Sol” still hanging in the air, senior class President Molly Michelotti acknowledged a group of students who had brought a different kind of culture to Wilson, the school’s foreign exchange students: Daniel Bosch of Austria, Pablo Lacunza of Spain, Sofie Lauritzen of Denmark, Widya Mashita of Indonesia, Tsellot Melesse of Germany, Jahongir Rahimov of Tajikistan, Umberto Sandri of Italy, Maryna Shulikina of Ukraine, Rabea Sieling of Germany, Dino Sikic of Croatia and Genting Sya of Indonesia.

“Have a safe trip home,” she said.

Vice principals Maude Lamont and Ayesha Freeman then took the stage to announce and present honors and special awards, including the PTA Cup — Outstanding Senior Girl to Shoshi Singer and the Princeton Cup — Outstanding Senior Boy to Gus Coats, who also happened to be the evening’s two students speakers.

But first, it was time for remarks from the guest speaker, Portland Public School Board member Ruth Adkins, introduced by Student Body Secretary Shayda Ansari. While officially appearing in her capacity as a member of the school board, Adkins said she has other ties to the school as well: Hillsdale resident and past and future Wilson parent.

“As a Wilson Park neighbor, I get a front-row seat on Wilson life,” she said. “You guys are amazing.”

Michelotti returned to the podium to introduce another valued member of the Wilson community, faculty speaker Mike Nolan, a teacher in the social studies department and varsity women’s basketball coach.

“Uniqueness,” Nolan said, “is a quality that is sometimes overlooked.”

He then described how when geese fly south for the winter in a ‘V’ formation, “as each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately flying behind it,” and said, “Like the geese, people who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier, because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

“The geese from behind honk constantly … they do this to encourage those up front to keep up their speed,” he added. “Every single one of you has made your mark felt at Wilson, while at the same time, working together to foster a sense of community through your actions and deeds, similar to that of the flying ‘V’.”

"Every single one of you has made your mark felt at Wilson, while at the same time, working together to foster a sense of community."

—Mike Nolan, commencement faculty speaker

As Nolan proceeded to thank individual students by name for their contributions to the Wilson community, those students would beam with pride, and so did their peers who surrounded them. It seemed that they would make good on Nolan’s peroration: “Always remember to honk.”

Student Body Treasurer Levi Weiss introduced the first student speaker, Student Body Vice President Gus Coats. In a wave of words as lyrical as slam poetry, Coats asserted that a Wilson education is much more than the sum of its parts: “The asbestos castle we call home was only the backdrop to what we lived.”

Horenstein introduced his fellow Human Relations Director Shoshi Singer, the second student speaker and, he said, “my best friend.” Singer recalled barely knowing anyone when she came to Wilson after leaving Portland Jewish Academy, but soon finding a sense of community and fellowship with her diverse group of classmates, so much so that by the time their senior year rolled around, “We ran the school, and we ran it well,” she said.

Then Student Body Activities Director Sam Olson announced that it was time for the principal’s remarks from Brian Chatard, who has just concluded his first year in the principalship.

“The toughest part of being the last speaker at a graduation is that all the analogies and various … platitudes have been used,” he said. “But I get my shot now.”

Chatard delivered concomitantly moving and mirthful oration on the reasons why parents should be thanked on such an occasion. Upon concluding, he declared, “Now it’s my pleasure to say, ‘Seniors, let’s graduate’."