As a packed crowd watched loved ones transition into adulthood, the sight of some lingering childish pranks decorated the air and amused many at the W.T. Woodson High School graduation ceremony. The faculty tried not to notice.
Students bounced around at least six beach balls, two balloons, an inflated alligator and a whale to celebrate their last day as seniors. They even tried to get the faculty involved, without success.
"The whole beach ball thing is pretty cool," said Tony Perkins, a Fox 5 Morning News weather personality and the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony. "I get sneaking them in, but I don't get how you inflate them once you're here. I think the faculty has only gotten one of them so far."
Students respectfully stopped bouncing the balls during speeches and presentations at their Thursday, June 15, graduation ceremony at Robinson Secondary School. More than 4,000 guests attended, and at least 100 of them didn't make it in time to get a seat. Graduate David Oastler's parents, Rick and Lolie, weren't left standing though. A week prior to the ceremony, they won front row seats in a raffle drawing. The proud parents, Canadian citizens, said the graduation was especially moving for them because their son will now be able to live and connect with his heritage by attending Acadia University, in Nova Scotia, Canada, next fall.
"We're excited for him to finally live in Canada," said Rick Oastler.
Rick and Lolie both work for the Canadian Embassy, and have lived all over the world since their two children were born. From Jamaica to Sri Lanka and Australia, the family has remained detached from their country, but not from their heritage and culture. They are parents who have decided to stay in Fairfax because of its school system, said Rick Oastler, because they want their children to get the best out of their education. They are just two of the parents who Perkins told graduates to appreciate and respect during his speech.
"Your parents have worked hard," said Perkins. "The fact that you are all here today, successful and graduating, also honors the parents."
PERKINS' SPEECH included words of experience and inspiration, and he also added a little humor to keep the crowd smiling. He read lyrics from the number one song in 1977. the year he graduated high school. Lyrics from "I'm Your Boogie Man," by KC and the Sunshine Band provided a laugh, but lyrics from a current number one single brought even louder laughter to the room.
"Whatcha gonna do with all that junk in your trunk," recited Perkins, of the Black Eyed Peas hit song, "My Humps."
Everyone laughed, and Perkins went on to address the students and commend them for their achievements. He pointed out that graduating is no small achievement, being that many students around the country enter high school and do not end up finishing. Woodson could be proud of approximately 96 percent of its seniors graduating this year, said Perkins.
"You are here today because you have already been successful, and that is something to be applauded," said Perkins.
An emotional point in his speech came when he read the words of Virginia Chambers, assistant principal at Woodson. Chambers was recently diagnosed with a rare blood disease, and she wrote parting words for Perkins to read on her behalf, just in case she didn't make it to the graduation. She was there, but Perkins still read her parting words to seniors, about two things she thought students should do every single day.
"Every day you should do two things," read Perkins. "One positive thing for yourself, and one positive thing for someone else."
Perkins called Chambers to the stage and embraced her as she cried. Everyone in the room clapped.
Student and faculty speakers kept the inspirational words coming, with each speech presenting a different perspective on graduating. The graduates found time between each speaker to hit their beach balls to each other through the air. One student hit a beach ball onto the stage as one of the senior class sponsors, Dan Schaefer, approached the podium. He let the ball sit at his feet, and joked he might lose his job if he were to participate in the students' pranks. One of the students seated on the stage took the initiative to bounce it back to the crowd before Schaefer continued with his short speech. Following Schaefer, Principal Robert Elliott came to the podium to congratulate seniors and present the diplomas.
"I love you," said Elliott. "Congratulations for being total people."