At just about every high school graduation ceremony, certain things are bound to happen.
Caps will be thrown, tears will be shed, Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” tune will be played.
But other traditions, such as the ringing of a bell in Anacortes or walking under flower-laden arches at Burlington-Edison, are unique to their schools and hold special meanings for the students, parents and teachers who participate.
Although difficult to verify, some traditions may have started with Skagit County’s earliest settlers, said Mari Densmore, archivist with the Skagit County Historical Museum.
“Education and putting up churches was like the next most important thing in settlement,” Densmore said. “They really valued their children getting an education.”
At that time, many students didn’t complete high school, and in some places high schools didn’t exist.
“So when they did manage to build a high school and they did manage to achieve the requirements for a graduation, it was really an accomplishment,” Densmore said.
Here are some of the traditions practiced by Skagit County schools.
By the time something becomes a tradition, its origins are sometimes forgotten, said Bret Lunsford with the Anacortes Museum.
For example, early on in Lunsford’s freshman year of high school when a girl asked him if they could walk at graduation together, he didn’t know she was asking because their parents had done the same thing years earlier.
“At the dawn of tradition, people don’t report on it,” said Lunsford, a 1981 Anacortes High School graduate. “By the time it’s significant, people don’t know (why).”
He said he remembers being in class and hearing the honking of car horns outside as that year’s seniors drove around the school, taunting the students still inside.
“The seniors who were no longer in school were audibly gloating to all the imprisoned lower classmates,” Lunsford recalled.
The car parade tradition came to an end before Lunsford could participate, but graduating seniors still take part in a walk through the school.
“I think, at a very young age, when the kids see seniors graduating, seeing them in their cap and gown, it gets them excited,” said Tina Franulovich-Martin, the district’s cultural education coordinator as well as a 1981 Anacortes graduate. “Even the freshmen watching the seniors go through these traditions, it excites them.”
Another tradition at Anacortes High School, said Principal Jon Ronngren, is the ringing of a bell after the graduation ceremony.
The large bell in front of the gymnasium dates back to 1892 when it was at the Columbian School, Lunsford said. It was moved to the high school in 1966 after the Columbian School was torn down.
“There’s something heartwarming knowing that they’ve been doing this for quite sometime,” Franulovich-Martin said.
Graduation day is a big deal for more than just seniors at Burlington-Edison High School.
Early on the day of graduation, 24 junior girls collect flowers to be used for the arches seniors will walk under as they enter Kirkby Field for the last time as students.
“I think it really makes them feel special to be part of the ceremony,” Laura Powers, an instructional assistant who has been at the school for 14 years, said of the juniors who lend a hand.
Powers said she doesn’t know how long the flowered archway tradition has been a part of the school’s graduation ceremony, but she estimates at least 50 years.
“They always look really pretty,” she said.
Powers herself is a Burlington-Edison alumna who, in 1976, was one of those juniors who collected flowers.
The 24 students, who are excused from classes for the day to construct the arches, generally collect donations from local businesses in order to have enough flowers, Powers said.
They attend the graduation rehearsal with the seniors, and their names appear in the graduation program, Powers said.
“They usually try to be on the same side that a friend or family member is walking under,” she said. “And it makes them think about next year when they’ll be walking under the arches.”
Concrete School District Superintendent Barb Hawkings, herself a Concrete High School graduate, said the school doesn’t have out-of-the-ordinary traditions.
But that doesn’t meant they can’t start them.
This year, the school’s seniors will dress in their caps and gowns a little early to walk through the elementary school.
“We thought it would be great for the elementary students to see the graduating seniors and see that as a personal goal for themselves,” Hawkings said.
Ceremonies at La Conner High School are steeped in tradition.
While other schools hold their awards and scholarship ceremonies outside of graduation, La Conner does them all at once.
“It’s very much a right of passage,” La Conner School District Superintendent Tim Bruce said. “Our community feels strongly about that.”
In addition, each year students make staff who are retiring or leaving the district honorary members of that year’s graduating class, bestowing them with the same caps, gowns and tassels as the graduates, Bruce said.
Those staff members are then honorarily inducted into the La Conner High School Alumni Foundation, the longest continuously meeting alumni association in the state, he said.
Instead of flower-covered arches, La Conner graduates walk under arches made of cedar, an important cultural symbol of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.
“We have always been cedar people,” Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby said. “Just like salmon is very important to our culture, cedar is probably the second most important natural resource that God blessed us with.”
Each graduate from the Swinomish tribe is given by the tribe a handmade cedar mortarboard, or academic cap, with an eagle feather.
“It’s an honoring that the tribal members do,” Bruce said.
Mount Vernon graduations can get a little loud, Assistant Principal Joan Robertson-Landi said.
As students exit after the graduation ceremony, school staff are there to guide them out — with noisemakers, Robertson-Landi said.
“It’s their chance to share the emotions of the evening with the staff,” she said.
The ritual holds meaning for the staff as well, she said.
“And for the staff, it’s a way for them to send (the students) off and say, ‘Good luck,’” she said.
What is called a moving-up ceremony is held every year as well, Robertson-Landi said.
In school assemblies throughout the year, each class has a particular section they sit in. For the moving-up ceremony, Robertson-Landi said, each grade sits in the next section up: juniors move into the space vacated by graduating seniors and so on, until the freshman section remains empty, waiting for new students to fill it.
Decades ago, as Sedro-Woolley seniors prepared to leave the school for the final time as students, they would hold hands and make a circle.
Now, a new tradition is in place.
When the final graduate’s name is called, the graduates form a circle and clasp their pinkies together, said Sedro-Woolley High School Assistant Principal Todd Torgeson.
“It’s pretty unique,” Torgeson said. “It’s a rite of passage.”
As they stand with their pinkies clasped, the new graduates sing the school’s alma mater, Torgeson said.
“They all sing it, and the alumni sing along with it,” he said. “If you’re a Sedro-Wooley Cub, you sing the alma mater.”
As the final words of the alma mater are sung, the graduates raise their arms, pinkies still entwined, and the Alice Cooper song “School’s Out” ushers them into adulthood.