Graduation is a night of celebration and reflection, but for one of Sequim High School’s 185 graduating seniors, it was also a night for an surprise.
Minszie Koch was not expecting her father, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class John Koch, to be in attendance on Friday night. He and the rest of the crew of the Port Angeles-based cutter USCGC Active were in San Diego training last week, and he wasn’t expected to be able to get away to be at his daughter’s graduation.
But Petty Officer Koch had other plans.
“I left so fast I didn’t even have time to grab my nameplate,” he said, laughing while describing his last-minute departure from San Diego Friday morning.
“There’s no way in the world I would miss this.”
Petty Officer Koch said he had wanted to surprise his daughter all along, and before the ceremony very few people outside SHS administration knew that he would be in attendance. But when his daughter’s name was called for her to walk across the stage and receive her diploma, there he was right behind her, ready to receive the joyful hug that followed.
SHS Principal Shawn Langston started the event with a sombre moment of silence for Dana Minard, a teacher who died suddenly in April, and Robby Streett, a teen who died away with his father Robert in a car accident in 2017 (Robby would have graduated this June).
Langston spoke of the importance of gratitude — a trait, Langston said, that’s one of the best ways tobe positive about the world around you.
Class-selected speaker Tommy Hall, who after opening his speech with a greeting in the Klallam language of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe gave a message about hope.
Following Hall were the Class of 2019’s seven valedictorians: Emily Bundy, Arlene Law, William Payne, Elizabeth Sweet, Maggie Van Dyken, Sean Weber and Blake Wiker. They all spoke on different subjects but brought their speeches into one combined message: “Be gritty, broaden your perceptions, don’t be afraid to fail, build (a strong foundation), embrace integrity and choose kindness, be boundless and take action.”
Graduating senior Jacobb Denny became the school’s first-ever unanimous choice for the U-Turn award, recognizing a student who has turned their high school path to a more positive one. Langston read a comment from SHS staff Melee Vander Velde praising his turnaround over his four years at SHS, choosing to improve and advance himself instead of remaining as the “angry, disillusioned young man” she first met.
Gary Neal, outgoing Sequim schools superintendent, referred to a speech by college football coaching legend Lou Holtz about his simple rules of life: doing the right thing, doing everything to the best of your ability, and showing people that you really care are vital parts of life. Those rules, Neal told the graduating students, will carry them through almost anything in their lives.