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Whatcom County grads? They’re going to be all right

2023 senior spotlight preview and graduation dates

Options High School students turn their tassels in June 2022 during their graduation at Civic Stadium.
Options High School students turn their tassels in June 2022 during their graduation at Civic Stadium. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Hailey Hoffman Visual Journalist

As caps are thrown into the air and diplomas are distributed, the next crop of young adults will be released into the “real world” to go to trade school, journey to college, travel to new places and join the work force.

Cascadia Daily News sat down with 16 Whatcom County graduates to talk about their hopes, dreams, hobbies, identities — anything that made them who they are today. The conversations I had with each graduating senior impressed me and left me feeling hopeful for this new group of Zoomers hitting the streets with purse strings cut.   

Here’s what I learned about them:  

1. They are extremely resilient.   

Adults sometimes quip that high school grads have “survived” the easiest years of their lives. But for this class of students, survival might just be the right word. Students graduating in 2023 were freshmen when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. They live in fear of school shootings and have likely experienced their own share of lockdowns and threats. The last four years have been far from easy. Add to that the general stresses of puberty, socializing and figuring out what you want your life to even look like.  

Resilience means something different for each student. Some showed resilience in personal struggles with mental health, bullying and addiction; others showed it in their actions and efforts to change the world. Resilience is core to their survival and ability to thrive.    

2. They want to do good and make change.   

Zoomers today receive flack for being self-obsessed social media zombies, but what I saw was deep empathy for others, an understanding of what is wrong in the world and a desire to make positive change. I saw a steadfastness in wanting to do good. 

When asked, “What’s next?” many students responded with dreams of being teachers and politicians, community organizers and mental health specialists.    


3. They love Whatcom County.   

As a high school graduate of a faraway desert state who ran away to Bellingham and hasn’t left the Pacific Northwest since, I was impressed by how many are opting to stay local to attend Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College or Bellingham Technical College or to join the local workforce. Many of those who intend to move, to the east coast or Seattle, talked about how much they’ll miss the area, their families and the community. 

I joked with many while sitting on the third floor of our State Street building with views of Mount Baker: “Why would you ever want to leave this?”   

4. Leaving high school and entering the adult world are two separate things.   

One funny thing I noticed was how the students’ responses differed when I asked two similar questions: “How do you feel about graduation?” and “How do you feel about entering the adult world?” 

For many, the answer to the former was a breath of relief and excitement to “be done.” The answer to the latter was more apprehensive — the lack of knowing what the rest of their lives will really look like casting a shadow of nervousness (not that anyone has that figured out, no matter how old they are).   

5. Some things have changed and some have not. High school students are still high school students.  

They’re still filled with youthful energy, drive and excitement to make their mark on the big, wide world.   

What I’ve learned, if anything, from the interviews we did with local graduating seniors, is that the kids are all right. 

THURSDAY, June 8

High school

Lummi Nation School, 5 p.m.

Mount Baker, 6 p.m.

Meridian, 6:30 p.m.

Lynden Christian, 7 p.m. 

FRIDAY, June 9

High school

Ferndale at Civic Stadium, 6 p.m.

Blaine, 6 p.m.

Lynden, 7 p.m.

Nooksack Valley, 7 p.m.

College

WWU College of Science and Engineering, 3 p.m.

WWU College of Science and Engineering, 6 p.m.

SATURDAY, June 10

High school

Sehome at Civic Stadium, 10 a.m. 

Squalicum at Civic Stadium, 1 p.m.

Bellingham at Civic Stadium, 4 p.m. 

Options at Civic Stadium, 7 p.m. 

College

WWU College of Business and Economics, 10 a.m. 

WWU College of the Environment, College of Fine and Performing Arts, 1 p.m. 

WWU Fairhaven College, University Interdisciplinary, Woodring, 4 p.m. 

SUNDAY, June 11

College

WWU College of Humanities and Social Sciences, 10 a.m. 

WWU College of Humanities and Social Sciences, 1 p.m. 

FRIDAY, June 16

College

Northwest Indian College, Stommish Grounds, 2 p.m.

Whatcom Community College, 6:30 p.m.

THURSDAY, June 22

College

Bellingham Technical College at Mount Baker Theatre, 7 p.m.

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