By SHELLEY NASH
The Saturday afternoon graduation ceremony for the 126 Brookings-Harbor High school seniors was marked by sun and a gentle breeze.
The ceremony began at 5 p.m. with the presentation of the colors by four members of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Chetco River.
The packed house then rose for the National Anthem, which was performed by Sea Breeze, the high school's jazz choir.
"Pomp and Circumstance," played by the high school band, followed the graduates onto the stage set up on the football field.
Unfortunately, the stage had been set for 125 graduates, so one graduate sat on the wooden riser until a chair was brought to him several minutes later.
Principal Dr. Floyd Strandberg welcomed the crowd to the graduation and said this was the largest graduating class in the last 15 years.
"We congratulate you seniors and hold this ceremony in your honor," he said.
Strandberg thanked the community for its support of the seniors and the schools in general. He referenced the $14 million bond that recently passed and the more than $150,000 in scholarships given to students.
The faculty of the high school was introduced. Strandberg then thanked the parents of the graduates.
"The character we share with students on a daily basis comes from parents and grandparents ," he said.
The parents in the audience were asked to rise and received a standing ovation from the graduates.
The sacrifices of the parents were not the only ones remembered by the crowd. Strandberg asked for a moment of silence to remember the victims of 9-11, as well as teacher Lynda McDonald who died this year, and the efforts of local police and firemen.
Strandberg then presented the first "diploma" to Harley Mitts, a World War II veteran.
The State of Oregon recently instituted a new program to award honorary diplomas to veterans who left school to serve before receiving their diplomas.
Because of the construction projects that are to take place this summer, Brookings students are out of school early and therefore the high school is one of the first schools in the state to present veterans with honorary diplomas, Strandberg said.
Mitts was a resident of Myrtle Creek and served from December 1943 to 1946 on the aircraft carriers USS Boxer and USS Princeton.
He was 17 and a sophomore when he forged papers to join the Navy.
After his discharge, he became a logger and moved to Brookings, where he has lived for 51 years. Mitts umpired pee-wee and high school baseball in the 1950s and 1960s. He also taught more than 300 students through the years in hunter safety courses.
His son, Dave, is a 1970 graduate of Brookings-Harbor High and son Harlan is a 1976 graduate. Both attended the ceremony.
Of his honorary diploma, Mitts said "It was a long-time comin' baby."
Vice-Principal Dr. George Park took the stage to present the Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM) recipients. These certificates measure achievement in math, science, English and art.
Senior Erin Gardner introduced Superintendent Dr. Paul Prevenas who listed the top 10 students in the 2002 class. In order, they are Lisa Nowlin, Doris Marks, Daniel Zia, Ashley Thom, Kristen Coons, Iris Wraith, Courtney Richards, Courtney Wood, Melissa Blagden and Danielle Lawrence.
High school counselor Brenda Hodges introduced Oregon scholar recipients Coons, Marks, Nowlin, Thom, Wraith and Zia.
The audience was then treated to the bagpipe playing of 1987 graduate David White.
Senior Lacey Gorman introduced Diane Kinney, the staff speaker chosen by the graduates.
"I'm here to celebrate the graduation of my daughter (April Kinney) and the privilege and great responsibility of being a teacher," she said.
She spoke to the seniors about the importance of surrounding themselves with quality people.
"Seniors, think ahead, plan, make choices that allow you to surround yourself with quality people," she said.
Kinney spoke about how special this class is to her because when they began kindergarten, she started her teaching career in Brookings.
Senior members of Sea Breeze took the stage once again for a rendition of "I'll Remember You."
That was followed by the introduction of salutatorian Doris Marks. Marks spoke about how the graduates may want to hang on to what they had in high school, but realistically, that probably won't happen.
She talked about success and doing what makes each person happy.
"We need to be careful how we think of success as we go into the future. Pursue the things that will truly make you happy," she said.
About the future, she said, "I admit, part of me is terrified (but) we've worked, played, hurt and we're finally prepared."
School board member Brian Larsson introduced valedictorian Lisa Nowlin who spoke on the importance of choices.
"We are the choices we make," she said.
She thanked the community, teachers and parents for their support.
"The teachers dedicate their lives to us. Parents have been there for us, cared for us, motivated us and most importantly loved us."
Nowlin introduced the teacher of the year, Larry Enos, who was chosen by the graduating class.
"Often times, it is the great teachers who go unnoticed. He made us want to learn. Mr. Enos, thanks for everything you've done. It didn't go unnoticed," Nowlin said.
Enos said, "In 33 years of teaching, I had two classes that really stood out and you're one of them."
He received a standing ovation from both the graduates and the teachers.
The class of 2002 had some international flavor this year with six foreign exchange students who were introduced. The students came from Thailand, Germany, Ukraine, Italy, Chile and Mexico.
Keynote speakers were then introduced. The class of 2002 chose five speakers who had somehow touched their lives. The speakers were Mary Wallace, Sue Musser, Jason Fulton, Kristy Kleespies and Chris McKay.
All shared memories of the graduating class. Wallace spoke about how she taught the seniors when they started school. Wallace was a kindergarten teacher and taught many of the seniors in the hall at Star of the Sea Catholic Church because the schools were too full at that time.
Fulton talked about how Lacey Gorman, Lacey Bottorf and Ashley Thom begged him to let them manage the eighth-grade basketball team when they were in middle school.
They weren't really interested in basketball, but rather fellow classmate Vince Enos, Fulton said. Still, they did a good job managing the team, he said.
Musser was a teacher and then principal at Azalea Middle School. She shared memories with the class including when they visited OMSI and slept on the floor, performed "My Fair Lady" in teacher John Mathison's class and performed in the Azalea Talent Show.
Kleespies, a physical education teacher at the high school, shared the memory of Thom and Matt McVay colliding on the baseball field during a P.E. class. They both went for a foul ball on the field and "Matt's teeth ended up in Ashley's forehead," Kleespies said.
McKay shared the importance of having hope and making a plan for life.
Sea Breeze seniors then performed "Showing Us the Way" followed by the processional of the seniors receiving their diplomas.
The graduates celebrated their accomplishment by throwing their caps into the air and spraying each other with cans of Silly String that had been placed under each chair.