Graduation extra emotional for Beamer High


The Mirror

Tuesday night was probably the last of many significant "firsts" for Todd Beamer High School.

The first senior class from Federal Way Public Schools' newest high school graduated in front of excited friends, families and two particularly important guests at the Tacoma Dome.

The parents of Todd Beamer –– who died in a plane hijacking during the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001 –– attended the commencement exercise and praised the school's first crop of graduates, 173 in all.

David and Peggy Beamer visited from their home in Florida and spent the day touring the school named after their son and visiting with students and staff.

Todd Beamer was on United Airlines flight 93 when terrorists took over the plane. He and other passengers fought back and the plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Investigators have speculated the terrorists were flying the plane to Washington, D.C. to hit a target.

Beamer's role in defeating the hijackers was recorded in a telephone call to a GTE operator, and Beamer's last words, "Let's roll," became a popular phrase after that day.

Many in the audience Tuesday gasped when Beamer High principal Jeff Garcia introduced the Beamers. They were greeted with a standing ovation.

David Beamer told the crowd that naming the school after his son was an honor the entire family appreciated.

"If Todd were here today, he would say it's really cool," Beamer said.

The couple also gave the seniors a few words of advice, reading phrases and words that were meaningful to them. Included in the list were self-responsibilty, attitude, make memories, commitment, integrity, "Let's roll" and God and country.

"To you, the graduates, the very first of Todd Beamer High, we offer our congratulations," David Beamer said.

Before the ceremony, Garcia said he was "ecstatic" about the occasion. He added a lot of heartache and tears went into getting to that point. This was Garcia's first year as principal of the school. It opened in 2003 without a senior class.

Dominique Small, standing with a knot of friends waiting to walk in front of their families, said several people were interested to learn he was a member of the school's first graduating class. Knowing they were the first made it that much more special for the grads, he said.

The class walked out from behind black curtains in pairs down a long, red carpet. Teachers and other school personnel stood along one side, clapping, shaking hands and hugging students as they went by. Parents and friends in the stands shouted graduates' names and popped pictures.

Sierra Hall, the class speaker, urged her fellow graduates to stay positive and "keep your heads up."

She also thanked the teachers. "You have effected each of us in so many ways," Hall said.

Afterward, Dave Abrahamson said the ceremony was "very exciting" and that being a teacher of the first graduating class made it different. While waiting for the exercise to begin, he'd had his picture taken with several students. He also noted the class was smaller in size compared to three other high schools in Federal Way –– which each graduated more than 300 students this week –– and the Beamer staff and teachers got to know the students better.

Soon, another student came asking for a photo with Abrahamson.

Gordon Martinez estimated about 20 friends and family watched his son, Brandon, receive his diploma. As others took pictures of the new graduate with friends and family, Martinez said the family's celebration would continue in a few days with a luau and traditional Hawaiian music, dancing and food.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565,

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