June 19 marked the 69th commencement of Olympic College, sending off the graduating class of 2016 to a standing room only crowd at the Kitsap Sun Pavilion. Joining the OC grads were degree earners from Washington State University and Old Dominion University who handed out Bachelors and Masters of Science. The graduates’ ages ranged from 17 to 65, with a crowd of all ages supporting them all in the stands and seats behind them.
Before the ceremony took place, the graduating class was busy getting ready in the President’s Hall located behind the pavilion. Gowns were draped over arms and shoulders, put on but left unzipped, or fully in place with perfect placement. Much of the hall was taken over by crimson caps and gowns, with the minority being the black gowns of Bachelor and Masters earners and faculty.
Among the red and black were students dressed in pristine white caps and gowns. These gowns highlighted an honor bestowed upon four students, two from the student government of OC and two from the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, who were selected as student marshals for the ceremony. Ekaterina Berulava, Kyle Broussard, Lisa Davis, and Stephan Lavoie were tasked with guiding their fellow graduates throughout the ceremony.
Students mingled with friends and strangers as they tried to navigate the process from their information cards. The excitement was palpable and ever increasing as the clock ticked closer to graduation. A professional photo booth was set up for graduates to take pictures, although selfies and cell phone pictures were the most popular method of capturing memories. Those memories would soon flood social media as the students wanted to share their exhilaration.
One thing that stood out most among the graduates was the diversity. From age, to dress, to attitude, each graduate was unique. Some were dressed in semi-formal dresses and suits with dress shoes, others preferred the more casual look with flip flops. Graduates adorned with a medal were members of the military, either active duty or veterans. Decorative cords signified various academic achievements and associations. Each one had a personal journey to graduation day, but they will all share the date.
Aiyana Stringer had two graduations this year, earning both her high school diploma from South Kitsap High School and an Associates of Arts from OC. She, like many other OC graduates, took advantage of Washington State’s running start program that allows high school students to take community college classes in lieu of or along with high school classes.
“Less college to take out of high school!” Aiyana said.
Aiyana pointed out that the program also prepares students for the future by teaching them “not to procrastinate” among other things. It’s fairly easy to get away with the occasional missed deadline at a high school level, but the fast paced quarter system at OC requires students to have more discipline. This will be helpful when Aiyana starts at Washington State University in the fall to pursue her bachelors in business.
Amanda Judd spent two years at OC, also graduating with an Associates in Arts with an eye on a business degree. She said that she planned on taking a brief break after graduating before continuing her education with OC’s business program. Her beaming smile as she discussed her future plans with fellow soon-to-be-graduates was shared by many.
Around 15 minutes to the ceremony’s start time, the graduates were lined up in the President’s Hall and the instructions were given out. The announcer started with a traditional attention grabbing chant that reminded many of their childhoods. “Clap once if you can hear me. Clap twice if you can hear me. Good!” It was another stark reminder that they’d be entering a different phase of their life soon.
Back in the Kitsap Sun Pavilion, the crowd was filling in fast. There was a flood of people searching for seats only to find they had to stand roughly ten minutes before the ceremony began. Everyone made sure that those who needed seats, such as the elderly, got them, and the friendliness and comradery among the guests was heartening. Everyone knew that the day was for the graduates.
At roughly 2 p.m. the Bremerton Symphony Quintet wrapped up their final time-filling number and quieted. The faculty and graduates were lined up outside of the pavilion’s side doors and the crowd edged forward in their seats to see them as the announcer introduced the class. Finally, the quintet started playing “Pomp and Circumstance” and the precession began.
The audience filled with cheers, happy tears, and smiles as their graduates filled in the seats at the center of the room and the graduates responded with the same. The colors were presented by the Naval Hospital Bremerton Color Guard, with the “Star Spangled Banner” being led by Teresa Eliason, and the starting speeches by faculty followed shortly after. The student speaker for the class of 2016, Ashely Jones, had an incredible list of accomplishments to her name and she shared her wisdom in a moving speech.
After the student speaker, Individual students were recognized for their achievements and the mothers and fathers who were graduation were also given a special nod. The OC choir gave a moving rendition of “How Can I Keep from Singing” and the roll readers were introduced. It was time for the presentation of the degrees and the student marshals began directing students to the podium.
Each name was read with deliberate clarity and the crowd remained respectful throughout the event. Some cheers were louder than others, but members of the crowd were rooting for every graduate as they went up the stage to accept their degrees. For some, this would be their last graduation before entering the workforce. For others, it was the first of many as they climb their way up the educational ladder.
Olympic College, a school recognized by the Aspen Prize to be in the top ten community colleges in the states, is no easy hurdle. The programs at Washington State University and Old Dominion University challenge students even further. Many of these students had jobs, families to take care of, and other responsibilities that made their pursuit of education even harder. Yet all of these students in the class of 2016 met that challenge and received their degree.
As the school year comes to a close and these graduates leave for bigger and better opportunities, Olympic College welcomes the new school year, new students, and new challenges. They are proud of their newest alumni and look forward to seeing them succeed in whatever life throws at them. Congrats graduates, you did it!