High school graduates around the South Sound deserve front-page treatment with bold-type headlines. Just ask the adults who review more than 100 nominees from nearly 40 high schools each year for the News Tribune’s All-Star Graduate accolades.
These community judges never fail to comment how inspired (and humbled) they feel to see what young people have achieved in only 18 years of life. The judges also always feel handcuffed that they can pick only a dozen all-stars.
Consider a few high-caliber youth chosen as semi-finalists this year, meaning they were relegated to a fine-print list of names in Sunday’s all-star package in the TNT.
▪ Kyanna Byrd was the top student in Clover Park High School’s senior class, learned to swim at age 12, went on to lead the school’s swim and dive team, served in her school’s Air Force JROTC program, and worked part-time to help support a household led by her single mom.
▪ Kaylee Kim locked down a 3.96 GPA at Charles Wright Academy, volunteered as the only teenage docent at the state History Museum, spent last summer transcribing Holocaust testimonies and did a yearlong independent study on the history of anti-semitism in literature.
▪ David Vanderwall graduated with a 3.99 at Bellarmine Preparatory School while tutoring, playing lacrosse at an MVP level, working at a steel mill and searching for a cure for cancer – seriously, as his teachers will vouch – in memory of the mom he lost when he was 11.
Feeling inspired and humbled yet?
Many members of the high school Class of 2016 were born in 1998, the same year the TNT launched the all-star program. It’s the newspaper’s modest way of giving overdue recognition to students with brains, talent, discipline and civic-mindedness – students who seldom show up on our print and Web pages, except possibly the prep sports section. It is a representation, not a full accounting, of the region’s best and brightest.
This year’s group of 12 included a few twists. One of the honorees graduated from Chief Leschi Schools, which is run by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and participated in the all-star program for the first time this year. Joseph McCafferty’s record of accomplishment emblemizes the promise of a new generation of Native Americans.
Also notable: This year’s roster of all-stars is composed entirely of public school students – a rare feat, in light of the depth of exemplary young men and women being developed in Tacoma area private schools.
Eventually, when Tacoma’s new public charter schools produce high school graduates, the community will celebrate those students contending for top honors and scholarships, as well.
Grownups should never take for granted the challenges that adolescents face growing up – and measuring up – in today’s whirlwind culture. High school graduation rates are one gauge of success, and Washington state’s four-year rate is on the upswing – in 2015, it stood at 78.1 percent, up from 76.6 percent in 2011. Tacoma and Franklin Pierce, two local districts once labeled dropout factories, have lifted their on-time graduation rates above 82 percent.
The work doesn’t get easier as students try to find a foothold in trade schools, colleges and beyond. Locally, organizations such as Graduate Tacoma, the College Success Foundation and the Northwest Leadership Foundation/Degrees of Change are providing an essential support system. The Pew Research Center in 2014 found growing economic and other disparities between college graduates and those with a high school diploma or less.
For at least a few days, however, adults can smile and exhale with a sense of fulfillment. They might even follow the cue of the U.S. president, who watched his own all-star grad, Malia Obama, turn her tassle this weekend.
They can wear dark sunglasses to hide the tears.