FWay grads exit on high and sad notes


Staff writer

Holding white and blue carnations, Federal Way High School seniors walked up red-carpeted aisles to their seats to the march of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Men wore dark blue caps and gowns, women white. Several of the graduates paused for family and friends to snap photos during the slow-moving procession.

Some of the 450 graduates wore gold or silver cords representing high honors, some wore honors medallions, and many others wore leis and sunglasses for last Saturday’s class of 2003 commencement at the Tacoma Dome.

The senior class officers presented a tribute to parents. They also talked about the role teachers, family and friends played in their lives. One girl compared teachers to “nurturing angels,” and another girl talked about the importance of friendship. “Someone once said that your best friend is a sister or brother God forgot to give you,” she said.

The first of several speakers was Leigh Johnson, mother of Luke Johnson, the Federal Way High student and standout golfer who was killed in a car accident last summer. She talked about her son and offered this advice to the graduates: “Live well. Laugh often. And love much.”

She told them they are embarking on a new chapter in life. “Find hope, forgiveness, peace and love in your heart, and you will live well,” Johnson said.

Lee Ann Womack’s song about hope for the future followed. Graduating senior Sarah Lencer sang:

“I hope you never lose that sense of wonder

“You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger

“May you never take one single breath for granted

“God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed

“When you get the choice to sit it out or dance,

“I hope you dance...

“I hope you dance...”

English teacher Becky Phipps spoke next, advising the graduates, “There’s a reason why you listen to your elders. It’s because there are life challenges and lessons that require experience. No one leads a charmed life. There will be disappointments.”

She said there will also be injustices and sorrows.

“Trust your inner self. You need not fear any of life’s challenges. Fearlessly walk through the portals in life and don’t look back. Live for today, but consider tomorrow,” Phipps said.

The next speaker was graduate Ian Murray. “Take pride in all you

do, but don’t be prideful,” he said. “Popularity ends on graduation day, but

respect will last forever.”

Then came the moment the graduating seniors had been waiting for –– the roll call of graduates and presentation of diplomas. Students hugged, shook hands and blew kisses after they received their diplomas. One student jumped off the stage, his gown unzipped and revealing a Superman outfit underneath.

David Celski, the Superman graduate, said after the ceremony that he had always been known as an outrageous character, and that he wanted to go out with a bang. A friend of Luke Johnson, Celski said Luke taught him “to love everybody no matter who they are.”

Celski plans to attend Washington State University and join the Army ROTC program. He wants to become an officer in the Army.

Many graduates decorated their caps with messages in glitter. Greg Strong’s cap read, “4 Luke.” Strong said Johnson was one of his best friends and was like a brother to him. He dedicated his diploma to Luke. “He just meant the world to all of us,” said Strong, who plans to study law at the University of Washington.

Kirsten Dehnert, an honors student, said she was “happy it’s finally over. I’ve been waiting for it (graduation) for a long time.” Dehnert will attend Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and study bio-medical engineering. She said she plans to become a trauma or orthopedic surgeon.

“I have a lot of confidence that she’ll be very successful,” her mother, Gail, said. “I am very proud to have a daughter who was basically very self-directed and self-motivated.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565,

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