Social studies teacher Brian Meyer remembers the graduating class of 2016 as a particularly reserved bunch when its members arrived at Fife High School as 10th-graders in 2013.
On Friday morning, as those once-shy 10th-graders donned shimmering blue caps and gowns, took group selfies, blew bubbles and prepared for the first-ever Fife Senior Walk, Meyer said it was clear the class had found its voice.
The Senior Walk, meant as a last hurrah before a graduation ceremony Thursday at the ShoWare Center, gave the students the opportunity to parade through Fife School District’s three primary and intermediate schools, saying goodbye to teachers and inspiring younger students.
“I think it’s a chance to build on the tradition that Fife district has,” said Meyer, who helped spearhead the event. “It’s a chance to give back to the rest of the schools that helped these kids along the way.”
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The seniors boarded buses at their high school Friday morning for the short trip to Discovery Primary School, home to Fife’s kindergarten and first-grade students. As they neared the school, the seniors’ excitement began to grow.
“I remember that!” one student said as the group passed the Discovery playground outside. “I remember it being higher.”
The seniors wound their way through Discovery amid cheers, applause and a ukulele serenade, high-fiving younger students and calling out to their teachers.
They then made their way across the yard to Endeavor Intermediate School. The seniors entered the cafeteria where students were having their lunch, and many cheered and cried out when they saw the younger students holding a banner bearing the hashtag #TogetherWeAreFife.
“I was holding myself together until I saw the banner,” senior Shayla Chandler said.
For a district that prides itself on a rich history, its latest tradition was started in the most 2016 fashion — with a viral video.
Elaine Smith, assistant director of Teaching, Learning and Innovation for the Fife School District, saw the video when it was making the rounds on social media last month. The video shows the graduating class from a small Texas high school parading around the halls of their elementary school, as the Fife seniors did Friday.
“I thought, ‘We could totally pull something off like this in Fife,’ ” Smith said. “It seemed very Fife-y.”
Meyer saw the video when a student’s parent forwarded it to him through Facebook. When he joked about it later with a couple of his senior students, their enthusiasm encouraged him to take the idea to the district office. By Thursday afternoon, Meyer said more than 100 seniors out of 250 total graduates had signed up.
Smith has her own personal connection to the event. Before she took her job in district administration nine years ago, she taught third grade. The third-graders in her last class were among the seniors who walked Friday.
“For many of them, they’re going back to the school that started this,” Smith said. “They can say, ‘This is where I started, I’m proud to say I made it, I’m ready to go out into a career or college and continue to the next chapter.’”
Yet what Smith said she’s most excited about is giving younger students the opportunity to really visualize graduation for themselves.
Mary McLaughlin, the assistant principal of Discovery, said at that age, especially, senior graduation can seem a long way away.
“They think an hour is a whole day — time has a different meaning to them at this age,” McLaughlin said. “I think having seen the seniors will give them some sense that there is a reason why they’re learning and coming to school.”
As the seniors exited the bus at Hedden Elementary and gathered outside the front door, the school gave them its own welcome — blasting over the loudspeakers was “We’re All In This Together,” a song from the movie “High School Musical.” Many of the seniors, who were in elementary school when the movie came out in 2006, began singing and dancing along together before parading into the school.
Melissa Scheumann, the parent who initially forwarded the video to Meyer, was teary-eyed as she filmed the graduates exiting Hedden.
“They played this music for (my daughter) Allie,” Scheumann said. “High School Musical was her dream movie. She wanted high school to be just like that — this comes pretty darn close.”
Hannah Shirley: 253-597-8670, @itshannah7