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Decatur seniors say goodbye

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

It was their moment in the sun. Decatur High School seniors graduated Tuesday night to fanfare, tearful farewells and hope for a bright future.

Outgoing principal Gerald Millett spoke about his own journey to self-discovery and confidence in life.

He told the graduating seniors, “It’s your turn to prove yourself. To make the doubters believe. When you have a choice, take the high road. It’s less congested.”

The Decatur Concert Choir, directed by Steve Gorringe, followed Millett’s speech. The choir sang “Oh Danny Boy” — one of Millett’s favorite songs — as a gift to him from the graduating class.

Then the speakers took the podium. Katie Street — valedictorian with a 4.0 grade-point average and recipient of many distinguished honors — talked about the road behind her fellow graduates and the journey ahead of them.

“We’ve only just begun the list of mishaps that life will bring us,” Street said. She talked about a friend who had died in a car accident last summer — Daniel Lucas Johnson. Not only was he a big man physically — at 6 feet 4 inches and 230 pounds — but he also had the biggest heart of anyone she knew. His motto was “Go deep,” Street said.

She told the graduates, “Go deep. Because when you do, you’ll realize the smile, the words of Daniel Lucas Johnson. So, seniors, prove what others already know: You are the best of the best.”

The salutatorian, Anam Akmal, took the podium next. About a year ago, she emigrated from Pakistan. Akmal attended Highline Community College in an academic acceleration program, then transferred to Decatur. Although she had been a student at the high school for only 10 months, she felt like she fully belonged there. She thanked her teachers at Decatur and said she is amazed at the opportunities available to students in the United States. Akmal spoke of the future — she will return to Pakistan soon and attend medical school. She told the graduating students, “I want to congratulate all the class of 2003 and wish you the best in life always.”

Bob Millen, Federal Way School Board president and father of graduating senior Alex Millen, spoke next.

“Please be careful. And please make good choices. Your future and the lives of others depend upon your actions and your choices. Choose well,” he said.

He next asked Millett if the students before him had met or exceeded the board of education’s requirements for graduation. Millett said they had.

“I present to you the Decatur graduation class of 2003,” Millen said. Family and friends exploded into cheers and applause.

Graduates pumped their fists, hugged each other and blew kisses to the crowd after they walked across the stage and received their diplomas. Two girls staged an impromptu dance when they met in the middle of the stage. While Millett read graduates’ names, a clandestine beach ball bounced into the air from the general area of the seated graduates.

After the last student received his diploma, Millett said, “Congratulations to the class of 2003.”

“I am so proud of them,” Millett said of the graduates after the ceremony.

Alex Millen said that when he received his diploma, he felt like he had accomplished a lot. He was also relieved. He plans to study computer science at Washington State University.

Elizabeth Grace said that when she received her diploma, “it was like a big lift off my shoulders.” She credits her family and friends for helping her make it. She plans to become a dental assistant after studying at Tacoma Community College.

P.J. Beirnes, who graduated with honors and plans to get involved in real estate, said he looks forward to a new beginning.

“I am very proud of his accomplishments,” his father, Philip Sr., said.

Chandra Wilson said she plans to attend Green River Community College and earn her Associates of Arts degree. She is unsure of what she wants to study. Her mother, Camile, said, “I’m just so proud of her. She’s a great, great girl.”

Andrew Johnson, one of Decatur’s top-10 students, wore a medallion representing high honors. The medallion showed an image of an oil lamp and a flame.

“I felt like I’ve done something significant for both myself and my family,” Johnson said. He will attend Pacific Lutheran University and study pre-med.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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