Tajhgee Haskins snaps a quick selfie with Federal Way Principal Matt Oberst on stage on June 10. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Tajhgee Haskins snaps a quick selfie with Federal Way Principal Matt Oberst on stage on June 10. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Graduating with gratitude: Federal Way’s class of 2021 reaches the finish line

Gratitude was a common theme among seniors at this year’s Federal Way graduation ceremonies.

Grateful to have made it through the year. Grateful to see friends and teachers one final time. Grateful for the opportunity to even have an in-person graduation ceremony.

“It was better than a drive-thru, like the class of 2020, but it’s not the Tacoma Dome,” said Drew Klein, a Federal Way High School senior who is off to Central Washington University in the fall on a track scholarship. “Something is better than nothing, though.”

The class of 2020 had pre-recorded graduation videos shown last year to replace any sort of in-person gatherings as COVID-19 cases were on the rise.

Despite more than a year of distance, Federal Way Public Schools commencement ceremonies at Federal Way Memorial Stadium offered an intimate opportunity for students and families to celebrate the milestone.

At ceremonies held June 10-13, graduates lined up under tents along the stadium track before crossing the stage with their diploma in hand as parents watched from their spaced, assigned spots in the bleachers.

It was special “knowing that my parents got a ceremony to go to, just because they didn’t graduate high school. So, it’s really big for them to see me walk on the stage and get my diploma,” said Cristal Asencio DeLeon, a Decatur graduate who also obtained her associate’s degree in biology from the Highline College Running Start program. She is attending the University of Washington in the fall with future plans to become a physician assistant.

Battling medical and mental health conditions in high school, Asencio DeLeon said this year gave her a renewed focus on the importance of taking care of your own mind and that “you have to grow up at some point, even if it’s scary.”

Samari Guiden, a Decatur senior, had family watching her graduate from the stands and on the ceremony’s live stream. She will attend Spelman College, a historically Black liberal arts college for women in Georgia, next fall.

“Our senior class, we still stuck together even though the pandemic tore our social life up,” she said. “In reality, life is not fair and you have to grow up really fast. It’s not going to go at your pace.”

Still, a sense of loss remained among the departing seniors.

“It’s very weird. A strange ceremony,” said Federal Way graduate Keanu Hector, who hopes to pursue a career in the science field. “Not something I’d expect [after] going through all 12 years.”

Throughout the weekend and various weather conditions, families and graduates filed into the stadium for ceremonies. Once the ceremony was over, custodial staff cleaned the seats between each group of 60 graduating students at a time.

Tajhgee Haskins, a Federal Way graduate, said he and his longtime best friend Drew Klein decided to snap a quick selfie with principal Matt Oberst after picking up their diplomas on stage.

“It just felt good to walk across the stage. I wanted to capture that moment because it’s going to be remembered for many years to come,” said Haskins, who is pursuing a music career as a rapper and audio engineer. “It’s a great picture. I might just get it framed.”

Haskins said he feels sorry for last year’s class as the entire second-half of their year — and any hopes of a traditional graduation ceremony — disappeared when the pandemic hit full force.

“I know that’s a feeling everyone wants to have,” he said. “I’m really grateful for this moment.”


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Joyce Lopez shows off her hand-drawn cap which reads, in Spanish, “If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself. If I give you love and respect, I love and respect myself.” Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Joyce Lopez shows off her hand-drawn cap which reads, in Spanish, “If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself. If I give you love and respect, I love and respect myself.” Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Federal Way Senior Class President Mele T. Tuuholoaki, left, and Link Crew Commander Iryna Baliyan pose for a photo on June 10. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Federal Way Senior Class President Mele T. Tuuholoaki, left, and Link Crew Commander Iryna Baliyan pose for a photo on June 10. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Federal Way football coach Marcus Yzaguirre holds a photo of 17-year-old Damoni Nelson after receiving a diploma on his behalf on June 10. Damoni, a well-loved star athlete and student at Federal Way, was fatally shot in Oct. 2020. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Federal Way football coach Marcus Yzaguirre holds a photo of 17-year-old Damoni Nelson after receiving a diploma on his behalf on June 10. Damoni, a well-loved star athlete and student at Federal Way, was fatally shot in Oct. 2020. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

A family holds signs in support of their graduate on June 12. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

A family holds signs in support of their graduate on June 12. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

A Decatur graduate waves to her family in the crowd on June 12. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

A Decatur graduate waves to her family in the crowd on June 12. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

The district implemented strict social distancing guidelines for all graduates throughout the weekend, including spaced markers after graduates picked up their diplomas. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

The district implemented strict social distancing guidelines for all graduates throughout the weekend, including spaced markers after graduates picked up their diplomas. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Tents and a stage were set up at Federal Way Memorial Stadium for graduation ceremonies. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Tents and a stage were set up at Federal Way Memorial Stadium for graduation ceremonies. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Decatur graduate William Forbes, class valedictorian and ASB vice president, cheers in triumph after picking up his diploma on June 12. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Decatur graduate William Forbes, class valedictorian and ASB vice president, cheers in triumph after picking up his diploma on June 12. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Decatur graduates move their tassels from right to left on June 12. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Decatur graduates move their tassels from right to left on June 12. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Federal Way High School graduates walk into Federal Way Memorial Stadium on June 10. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Federal Way High School graduates walk into Federal Way Memorial Stadium on June 10. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

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