McLean High School’s Class of 2004 graduation ceremony last week at Constitution Hall was a celebration of triumph over four of the most adverse years in recent American history. Students, administrators and guest speaker Doreen Gentzler, a local news anchor, all stressed that the class had lived through and grown from the experiences of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the war in the Middle East, and sniper attacks in the metropolitan area.
Gentzler, who had two brothers graduate from McLean High School, said, “We had our own issues when I was in high school, but terrorists and snipers were not among them.”
She gave the students four pieces of wisdom to take away with them: Be yourself; ask questions about everything; learn to listen; and keep your sense of humor.
In addition to the external turmoil that students lived through, the entire time the Class of 2004 was in school, McLean High School was undergoing serious renovations that caused noise disturbances, makeshift trailer classrooms and numerous changes in where classes were held. “You guys have had a tremendous attitude in the face of all that,” said Gentzler.
McLean has 12 valedictorians this year. This follows a countywide trend of not singling one student out for academic excellence.
One of the valedictorians, Helen Sim, addressed her peers, saying, “The various paths are before us, and the choice is now ours.” Sim then spoke directly to her parents in their native Korean to express her appreciation for their sacrifices.
THE MOMENT WAS WELL APPRECIATED by attendees because McLean has an extremely diverse student population and the school makes repeated efforts throughout the school year to embrace and acknowledge the cultural diversity that is reflected in the student body.
Sim ended her speech on a less serious note by saying, “In the wise and immortal words of Superman, with great power comes great responsibility.”
Two students were honored by the faculty for their excellence. PJ Podesta received the Scholastic Athlete Award for his academic and athletic achievements throughout his time at McLean High School. He will be attending the University of Virginia next year.
Gwendolyn Danjczek was given the Faculty Award for her aptitude, leadership and attitude, according to principal Dr. Donald Weinheimer. “This is the highest honor the faculty can bestow,” said Weinheimer, who called Danjczek a “dynamic and talented woman.”
Danjczek, he said, showed great courage and school spirit when as a junior she didn’t make an athletic team she tried out for, yet turned it into a positive by becoming the team’s manager and attending every practice and game and becoming an emotional support for her peers.
Class president Jenna Falle waxed nostalgic with her peers about the four years spent in McLean. “Time was measured in countless hours at the one-arch McDonald’s,” Falle said. She then acknowledged the good fortune the student body had in attending school so close “to the epicenter of the world” and all the economic and social benefits that circumstance afforded them. “We will compare everything in our new lives to our old lives in McLean,” Falle said.
After the declaration of graduation from Weinheimer and the presentation of hundreds of diplomas, the McLean Band played “Life Is a Highway,” as students filtered out of the building to reunite with loved ones and enjoy their private celebrations.