The 2023 school year has come to a close, and the Petersburg community came to the high school gym on the evening of May 30th to celebrate 21 graduating seniors. The grads tearfully thanked their loved ones as they entered the next chapter of their lives.
The class of 2023 marched into the school gym in time with Pomp and Circumstance, draped in royal blue robes and carrying bouquets of roses.
Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter presided over the event. The students took their places in two neat rows on the court, and Kludt-Painter gives them leave to hand out their flowers to loved ones in the stands. When they returned to their spots, Kludt-Painter opened the ceremony.
“Welcome to this momentous occasion where we gathered together to celebrate the culmination of years of hard work and achievement,” said Kludt-Painter. “Today, we recognize and applaud your growth, resilience and commitment. Congratulations graduates and welcome to your high school graduation ceremony.”
Kludt-Painter paused to recognize two PHS faculty members who are retiring this year — veteran teachers Gregg Kowalski and Thomas Thompson. Then she handed the podium over to the Salutatorian.
Graduating senior Stacey Eilenberger plans to attend Georgetown University in Washington D.C. to study foreign affairs. Her speech was full of thanks and well-wishes to the friends, faculty, and family members who supported her cohort over the years.
“I would like to thank all of the family members present tonight,” said Eilenberger. “I’m so proud of everyone in front of us today. Your support and patience in watching and helping us grow, have turned us into respectable people. While it may seem like time can’t move fast enough for us to get out and explore the world, I know that for you, you may wish the time to slow down or stop forever. The unfaltering love that you have shown us all is something that I believe we will never forget.”
Next, Kyle Biggers stepped up to the mic. Biggers is a multi-sport athlete and plans to attend Whatcom College in Washington State to play collegiate basketball and study engineering. He briefed the audience on the class history and some hijinks from his cohort’s earliest days.
“I had a flashback all the way to kindergarten, when there was that little stream that we had,” said Biggers. “It went through a fence in the playground on a rainy day. You’d have like several people playing in the water. Looking back, it seems very stupid. But it was actually very entertaining back then.”
His stories carried on all the way to their senior year.
“The beginning of the senior year aquaculture class, we went by Five Mile Creek to collect some salmon eggs and milt for the aquaculture class. Anyway, we were getting a little bored — so one of us threw a dead fish at someone else.”
Biggers closed out his speech by honoring his peers for the variety of their post-high school plans. He said, despite the small size of their cohort, they’re pursuing a broad spectrum of different paths after graduation.
“We have students going to trade school for real estate and mechanics,” said Biggers. “We have several of us going to university, then three of us to participate in college sports — and each one of us has a different sport. One of us is going to art school and another to the military. We have some more staying in town to continue working the fishing industry and eventually run a family business. I have enjoyed watching all of us grow up.”
As part of a long-held tradition, PHS grad Alexus Sakamoto-Quezon announced the class of 2023’s gift to the school: new pads for the gym, each featuring a viking boat design.
“My class and I are very thankful for our community’s love and support throughout the years and we will never forget it,” said Sakamoto-Quezon.
After graduation, Sakamoto-Quezon plans to attend Northern Arizona University to study dental hygiene.
Deirdre Toyomura is the class of 2023 Valedictorian. Over her high school career, she was a multi-sport athlete — competing in cross-country and wrestling. She plans on attending Simpson College in Iowa, where she will study marine engineering and continue wrestling.
In her tearful address to her classmates, she offered some wisdom she picked up from the sport.
“I have been a wrestler for a while,” said Toyamura. “I think it’s only appropriate to tell you about some of the life lessons I’ve learned from it. The work you put into something will show — the math is pretty straightforward. If you apply yourself consistently to something, whether it is a sport or a passion, you will see results. You’ll struggle and fail when you go to put in work and it will be disappointing and frustrating. But what you see as failures are the steps towards success.”
Then PHS social studies teacher and baseball coach Jim Engell gave the final address. He implored the graduates to embrace kindness as they start the next leg of their journey.
“Being kind requires each of us to have empathy for the other guy,” said Engell. “It requires us to give grace to those who are struggling and even to those who are annoying us. It requires us to resist the temptation to become angry. And by the way — I’m talking to you guys, but I’m kind of talking to myself too right now. Thank you again for the privilege of speaking to you tonight — and as it’s customary in the maritime industry, fair winds and following seas to continue on your journey.”
With that, Superintendent Kludt-Painter bade Petersburg High School’s graduating class to turn over their tassels, as the crowd erupted in the stands.