Seaside High School Principal Don Wickersham may have finished high school, earned a bachelor's degree and eventually his master's, yet he never walked in any ceremony to recognize those achievements.
But Monday, Wickersham donned a cap and gown to stand with the 110 graduates in Seaside High's Class of 2007. It's the last class to have him as principal; Wickersham will retire this year.
Superintendent Doug Dougherty evoked some surprised murmurs from the packed house at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center when he explained the outgoing principal's circumstances.
"Despite successfully completing all the requirements for his diploma, Mr. Wickersham has not walked through a high school graduation, through his bachelor's degree celebration, or his master's degree," Dougherty announced. "Mr. Wickersham, it is time for you now to walk, too, into the new adventures of your life."
"Boy, would my high school principal be surprised!" quipped Wickersham, who didn't walk for his graduation because he finished early and joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He also finished post-secondary degrees ahead of time, embarking on other experiences before the annual commencement ceremonies arrived.
After more than a decade in Seaside schools - aside from a three-year stint when he returned to Sitka, Alaska, one of the places he worked before coming to the North Coast - he plans to "take a step back" from education for new experiences with his wife, Seaside teacher Stephanie Wickersham, who is also retiring.
While the principal made few remarks about Seaside High's graduates, he spoke to the audience in both English and Spanish, reflecting a different kind of diversity at the school than the gradual acceptance noted by valedictorians Daniel Copenhaver and Joe DeNotta in their speech.
They entered high school to find "a realm of cliques, of jocks, skaters, hippies, nerds and surfers," said DeNotta. "Our visual differences were easy to categorize."
However, he said, "amongst these cliques were individuals with ambitions, ideas, morals and aspirations of their own. So, we came to see that no two minds deserved to be compressed and stamped with the same label. Today, I challenge you to pick out the cliques among us."
Copenhaver said seniors have surpassed simple tolerance to encourage diversity.
"Today, the members of our class are deliberately and blatantly different," he said. "Our dissimilarities are no longer a hindrance."
Valedictorians Selah Meyer and Mark Thysell expressed gratitude to the teachers, administrators, parents and other community members who contributed to their success.
"We have been characterized as the creme brulee of all classes," said Meyer, thanking all the "bakers" that helped mold them into the "most educated creme brulees ever to face the outside world." While they may appear "tough and crusty" on the exterior, she assured guests they remained "sweet and custardy" on the inside.
Thysell thanked the "innumerable positive influences" that "have helped us achieve so much while in high school, and equipped us with the tools that will ensure our success in college or wherever our lives may take us."
And although seniors were the main honorees, he told the crowd, "This evening is not only for us, but for you, as the individuals who have been a part of our lives and invested your time in us. We hope you
will enjoy the ceremony as much as we will enjoy being done with high school."
In their red gowns and caps, seniors comprised half of the roughly 20-member chamber choir singing the Beatles' "With a Little Help From my Friends." Graduates also poured offstage for the high school band's performance of Danny Elfman film scores.
A slide show documented the class as students grew up - from baby pictures to senior photos, and from Little League to high school dances.
Valedictorians Kai Watts and Ellen Cochran, the senior class president, wrapped up the ceremony with a final speech.
Watts thanked those attending: "We have had the support of the people here. ... It is they who have encouraged us as we grew from toddlers to teenagers, always wanting the best for us and for us to do our best."
"On behalf of the Class of 2007, thank you," he said.
Cochran reflected in the final moments of the group's last major high-school performance.
"We have been together through the hard times, the hilarious times and the wonderful times, such as being onstage this very moment," Cochran said. "Through it all, we have motivated, cared for and supported each other. Keeping those memories within our hearts, now is our time to look to our future.
"As we embark on this amazing journey that lies ahead of us, I urge you to remember to learn from yesterday, live for today and dream for tomorrow," she said. "Congratulations, Class of 2007, we made it!"