Grateful graduates

"After today their lives likely will never be ruled by a ringing bell. It's a rite of passage they've looked forward to for many years. For thousands of Federal Way's young adults, graduation is finally a reality. Today, the Mirror spotlights three students whose high school careers were enhanced by a favorite teacher. From the sidelines and beyond Life wasn't easy for Shaun Bodiford a few years ago. Sour relationships with his family and trouble in school had taken their toll on one of Federal Way High School's up-and coming football greats. When poor grades kept him from participating on the Eagles football team his sophomore year, it seemed like nothing could go right. That is, until Leon Hatch walked into his life. He saw me sitting on the sidelines and said, 'Son, what are you doing here?' Bodiford said. That was the beginning of it. Bodiford says Hatch's influence changed everything. I could see Shaun had an ability but he just couldn't see it for himself, Hatch said. He didn't realize how much he had. Hatch made it a point to get to know Bodiford. At first, Bodiford said he was apprehensive to let a teacher - of all people - get too close to him, but eventually he opened up. The two shared deep conversations about goals and ways to get Bodiford back on track with his school and home life. I told him that if I'm going to work with him he'd have to follow through on everything, Hatch said. That was the basis of our relationship. That and a lot of communication. With permission from Bodiford's mother, Hatch quickly became a trusted mentor and a quasi-surrogate father. When conflict bubbled over at home, Bodiford visited Hatch at his house to talk about it. He's like the father I never had, Bodiford said. The father I always wanted. I feel like I'm a part of his family. The guidance Hatch provided wasn't always what Bodiford wanted to hear. Hatch often told him the way to straighten up was to be trustworthy, humble, honest and true to himself. With his grades on track and at top physical performance, Bodiford earned a full ride football scholarship to Portland State University. I wouldn't be in school and I wouldn't be graduating if not for him, Bodiford said. After college, Bodiford said he'd like to be an entrepreneur - perhaps starting a music label or a fashion line. Hatch says he hopes Bodiford will always help others in need, as he once needed help. And will they keep in touch? Oh yeah, Bodiford said, grinning at Hatch, we're taking this one to the grave. A chance meeting Trude Perez's office is a place many Decatur High School students avoid. The administrative assistant and dean of students serves as the school's disciplinarian, assigning detention or suspensions. Two years ago Jennifer Dulaney arrived in Perez's office for a disciplinary problem, which is sealed and kept confidential in school records. But instead of the automatic suspension from school she might have expected, Dulaney got an unexpected second chance. She was the start of my dramatic change, Dulaney said of Perez. A self-described rebel and attention getter, Dulaney wasn't helped by hanging out with the wrong crowd. Perez quietly and calmly explained why. I tried to find out about her life and to build a relationship, Perez said. I told her what would happen if she chose the path she was taking. I told her what could happen if she chose a different path and how her whole future could change. We did a lot of talking. That office visit Dulaney's sophomore year seemed to turn the tide. Dulaney became more mindful of herself and her behavior. Her attitude toward life and her family also became more positive. Perez and Dulaney casually greeted each other in the hallways at school for months after their encounter. Each time Dulaney was reminded of the straight talk Perez gave her. This year, Dulaney wrote Perez a heart-felt letter of thanks for the advice and guidance she received. I just wanted her to know how much I appreciated that she's doing something for the student body, Dulaney said, even though she can't see it. Perez says the letter is something she'll always treasure. Dulaney said Perez's lessons will stick with her long after graduation. She plans on a few church missions this summer. After that, perhaps she'll become a massage therapist. Dulaney hopes Perez will stay her own course at Decatur: If she did, this world would be perfect. Keeping their eye on the ball Tommy Decker jokes about the punk kid he knew who evolved into a mature young man. Six years ago, Darin Epling pushed the behavioral envelope as a student in Decker's seventh-grade science class at Kilo Junior High School. I thought he was disruptive and a little hyperactive, Decker said. He was always in the middle of the activity, but I saw a gleam in his eye and I knew that there was better stuff to come. Decker's hunch proved true. While his seventh-grade science class was the only time the two would ever be in a class together as teacher and student, Decker decided to keep tabs on Epling throughout his junior high experience. The two remained in touch during Epling's eighth- and ninth-grade years, when Decker took over as Kilo's head football coach. Decker later transferred to Jefferson to teach high school science. When Epling arrived at Jefferson his sophomore year, he and Decker didn't see much of each other, which worried Decker. Epling's choice of new friends also concerned him. Last year, Decker invited Epling and a handful of Thomas Jefferson students along on weekend hiking trips, in Decker's unofficial Salmon Club. Through talking and generally bonding the two cemented their six-year friendship. He helped me find a better peer group and he got me on the right track, Epling said. Epling says it won't be hard to keep in touch with Decker, even when he moves away next fall for college. His father, Randy, helps coach the Raider football team with Decker. They're good friends, Epling said. So I know we'll stay friends. Graduation weekend All class of 2001 graduations will be held at the Tacoma Dome on June 17. Federal Way High School's will be at noon; Decatur High School, 3:30 p.m.; and Thomas Jefferson High School, 7 p.m. Look in the June 20 issue of the Mirror for coverage of the class of 2001, including class lists from Thomas Jefferson, Federal Way and Decatur high schools and commencement photos. "

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