Dear Fellow 2018 Graduates…

by Gracie Bucklew

[This story was originally the Valedictorian speech at The Center School’s 2018 graduation ceremony on June 20. It has been lightly edited for clarity.]

As the end of eighth grade grew closer, I was filled with trepidation for what the next four years might bring. I fantasized about failing all my classes on purpose so I’d have to stay at South Shore PreK-8. But that wouldn’t work because the rest of my class would be gone, and I’d have to make friends with the seventh graders.

I seriously thought about just going to my assigned school — Rainier Beach — but that wouldn’t do either because all my closest friends were fanning out across the city for high school. So, I supposed the only viable option left was to go through with my promotion and attend the school I’d signed up for — The Center School.

The fall came and I was in Visual Composition Class. About halfway through class I spotted a girl I thought I recognized all the way back from Magic Lantern Montessori Preschool; we had been best friends, but I hadn’t seen her since then.

“Shira?” I asked her.

“Uh yeah?” She responded, seemingly annoyed. Yikes, I thought, this whole making friends thing may be harder than I anticipated.

Luckily though, I recognized another girl from preschool — Sarita. Maybe I’ll make friends with her, I thought. Unfortunately, that hope withered when I realized Sarita was too cool for me. She already seemed to have friends and they were cool too.

But enough about me! I’m guessing, or at least hoping, many of you felt something similar as you crossed over from eighth grade into ninth — nervous, unsure, small, excited. But we made it through that first year, during which we walked out in protest of the loss of a beloved teacher and experienced our principal’s usually impeccable but sometimes questionable fashion choices.

In the second year we learned our Humanities teacher was in love with William Shakespeare and that school dances aren’t as cool as we thought. In the third we made and lost friends because of Running Start and began getting interrogated about our future plans. And in the last, this past year, we grew indebted to our College and Career Counselor for helping us map the paths our lives might take, and a lot of us (save those few stubborn seniors) finally started to become more socially aware thanks to Civic Engagement and Social Justice Class.

Eventually, somewhere along the way, I did become friends with those two preschool buddies. They’re now two of my best friends and trustiest accomplices in life and I love them dearly, even if it did take me a few years to develop a bond with them.


Through all that, I became Valedictorian. All that means is that I have the highest grade point average among our class, and frankly I don’t think I deserve a special title for that.

School isn’t for everyone. It’s designed for certain minds and workers and strengths and I happened to fit that mold enough to excel, or at least beat the system. Who gave a special title to Lainey for being the craftiest embroiderer? Who gave a special title to Ha’aheo for writing poetry with the most imagery? A special title to Ivy for changing her hair color the most frequently? To Shira for asking the most questions in class? To Yosa for exceeding the maximum number of dabs humanly possible? To Reilly for being the most adult? To Liam Geary for being the best-dressed high schooler in history? To Sarita for practically running the school? To Tillie for drinking the most tea? To Mariam for having the loudest laugh? And to everyone else I couldn’t mention because Sarita told me I had to stop.

These are the things high school is about, or should be about — fun and friends and creativity and personal growth and discovery. And we’re now off to continue this journey past high school. Good luck to you all. I love you and thank you.

Photographs by Judy Finholm.

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