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A new beginning

Every student who successfully surmounts the rigors of high school has a story to tell. Perhaps no single group of graduating seniors exemplifies this more than Renaissance High School’s Class of 2003.

Ranging in age from 16 to 21, every grad got their own moment in the spotlight at the alternative school’s unique graduation ceremony on Thursday evening, June 12.

Instead of having a valedictorian or student body president speak on behalf of the entire class, each of Renaissance’s 21 graduates took the stage to individually address the 100-plus-member audience before they were handed their diploma. Some grads reflected on their time at the school and gave praise to their parents and teachers, while many others managed only a few tearful “thank you’s” before being overcome with emotion.

“Thank you to everyone for helping me prove others wrong who didn’t believe in me,” said Renaissance’s youngest grad, 16-year-old Meranda Maier, during her speech.

Following the speeches, each graduate was presented with an inscribed journal to use for reflecting on past accomplishments and celebrating future successes. Then, clutching their new journals and hard-earned diplomas, Renaissance’s newest graduating class ceremoniously crossed their tassels over to the left amid a showering of applause from friends and family.

“She’s such a smart girl and I knew she could do this,” said a teary Colleen Burdick of her graduating daughter, Sera Harris. “I’m just so proud and so grateful she had the patience to stick with it.”

Renaissance principal Stuart Crisman said this year’s 24 graduates, 21 of whom attended the ceremony, comprise the largest graduating class in the school’s seven-year history. Crisman discredits the common public perception that alternative schools like Renaissance are lesser schools where juvenile delinquents are sent. In actuality, he said, the more than 200 Renaissance students are good kids who have chosen to attend, many because of the smaller classes, individualized teaching and community college-like scheduling.

“Some of our kids haven’t succeeded at the normal high school, so some people in society have just written them off. I think some of those kids are already defeated when they come here,” said teacher Steven Barnard. “Just the name — Renaissance — implies it’s a new beginning. They just turn it around and click with what we have here and that’s really cool to see.”

Graduating senior Jessica Forgey, 21, said she had no other options when she entered Renaissance’s doors four years ago. She was in her junior year at Bremerton High School when a serious bout of bronchitis caused her miss more than the 14 absences allowed per class per semester. Rather than receive no credit for for the entire year, she transferred to the alternative high school and received credit for her time at BHS.

“I think it benefitted me better and I was able to learn more and go further than I would have at any other high school,” said Forgey, who plans on attending the Art Institute in Seattle after taking a year off to work. “This is the best school I’ve ever been to. I like the teachers and the people, it’s a very unique school.”

“In such a small school there’s really no separation of groups. When it comes down to it, there’s no room for separation because then you’re on your own,” added graduating senior David Hawkins, 19, who transferred to Renaissance from South Kitsap High School two years ago. “There’s really nothing you have to be at this school, there’s no cliques that you can hang out with — everybody just gets along.”

Teacher and senior adviser Steve Priest said although Renaissance is the only remaining option for some students, their success at the school largely depends on self-motivation. Priest said as senior advisor, he has been able to help steer students in the right direction and is confident that Renaissance’s Class of 2003 will find much future success.

“Every graduate that walks across that stage has worked really hard to be there and they’ve put their mind to jumping this hurdle that has been really difficult for most of them,” Priest said. “With that accomplishment, I think they could all go wherever they wanted in life.”

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