THE Difference.

“Due to inclement weather, the 2018 WHS Graduation will be inside.”  Ms. Short, the guru and master of planning what would be a HUGE successful gradation greeted us in the AM on June 3rd.

Surreal.  The voice starting the day just reminded me of what the day would hold.  I had seen the stage and chairs all arranged in the middle of the WHS stadium and it still didn’t register that I was not in Mexico at this year’s graduation class, but going to be going to the Baccalaureate and graduation ceremony of Woodbridge High School – the 49th graduating class.  Yet, get THIS connection.  Aisli Alondra Torres-AisliLanderos  – coming up to me in the library in our Independent Study “Mr. Brake – I want you to introduce me at graduation. if this occurs that I am salutatorian”  Seriously, I was about 10 seconds from a dropped heartbeat and just froze.  “What? Um, what?”  I remember the first time I was asked to capped Camila, Alice and a host of still AMAZING students in Mexico City and every single time – even when I am not capping and simply watching the ceremony, it is an honor to see students that have become a part of you walk across that stage and we all know, is bittersweet to see them go. 

A country away ANOTHER MAJORLY AMAZING student, Lisa Yu was ASF’s Salutatorian, and still a student I was lucky enough to have some amazing moments and can never forget.  Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 12.12.18 AM  Yes there are weeks and days that you are like “HOW MUCH LONGER” but things change so crazy fast – every single time I was privileged to be asked to cap in Mexico.  A country away, an amazing graduation was occurring with MANY AMAZING students in Mexico City – and missed completely as well    (This is powerful).

I simply said “Yes Aisli, of course!” having no idea what I was going to do but get this impressive fact – Aisli was the FIRST to graduate from her family and she taught herself everything in English from the start and thankfully for the amazing educators that pushed and encouraged her, she has turned out to be one of the most successful young ladies I have had the privilege of being in school with, (and as you know, the young ladies and gentlemen from ASF in Mexico City and Seaford have turned out to be total rock stars).  I remember when Aisli took the photo wishing Mexico good luck during the initial earthquakes, as well as helping push out a card of thanks and hope to Mexico – and saw the same determination, intelligence, and work ethic I was lucky enough to be surrounded by every single day in Mexico – and I can’t put into words how much her request meant to me seeing her in just one year achieve what most could not in 12 years – words will not, cannot do her justice.

I also realized how amazing it is that the graduating class of 2018 was mentally tough in so many cases I witnessed, and devoted to pushing and helping each other succeed – sometimes with lives that defied the imagination to rise above and graduate.  Countless students I was so lucky to have come into contact with, within one single year, and it felt like six years of appreciating the talents, determination, bravery and courage they brought to the finish line.  Add onto that the fact that you have so many educators I remembered pulling late nights, early days, extenuating attempts to make sure they pulled their graduates towards the ultimate goal SO MANY COUNTLESS TIMES – this whole mixed one year but feeling like six and seeing this all happening and being able to be among these amazing graduates? I was not worthy, very simply put.

Getting it together and dressed up and  out the door – I made it to the Union United Methodist Church for the Baccalaureate Service –

the rain was pouring – the cold was everywhere – and what an experience of warmth inside.

As I was sitting in the pew, taking in the views of the soon to be graduates in the front, younger WHS students in the side ready to put on a special performance, two ladies from behind me tapped me on the shoulder and complimented that I had such nice looking grey hair.  It was such a nice compliment but you know me, GREY HAIR?  AGH!  I always freak out when people notice that my once dark head is not well, less than that for sure – it was hysterical.  We sat and between those ladies and the man beside me, we discussed the genes in our families and having hair opposed to not having hair, HYSTERICAL.

The total service was pretty unable-to-be-captured in words. It was AWESOME to see admin Heath Chasanov, Kent Chase, board member Walter P. Gilefski,  and even former colleague Math Teacher Sean Knowles in the church celebrating the service among WHS graduates, it was truly surreal.

Amazing songs were sung – and pretty awesome favorites, “How Great Thou Art” and certainly one of my all time favorites – “I’ll Fly Away.”  but there was so so much more.  Watching the WHS ensemble sing “For Good” – supported by WHS’s own Ms Workman and Ms. Jones – seeing the emotions open from the students during this – there simply cannot be no words that could capture this, there were NONE.

Sitting beside me about halfway through the service, a young man sat beside me that just seemed to remind me of someone and only later, as I made my out to say hello and see you soon to graduates as they ate in the annex of the church, I say a really great student Garret beside this same man sitting beside me and turned out, it was his BROTHER!!!!! GET OUT!!!!! – I mean the frequency of the coincidences that occurred and that did occur already – at some point my head just shut down and let them roll over me.

During this Baccalaureate Service, the amazing poise, spirit, and energy of Myra, Morgan, Tatum, Tanner, Brooke, Hunter, Morgan (#2) and alumni Shawn – just take a look at this star cast in the bulletin) – I was reminded in seeing and hearing each of them how lucky I was to be there celebrating them.

Despite the crazy, wicked weather that had descended on the WHS 49th Graduating Class of 2018, for all the above reasons (and the ceremony had not even started) – I felt I was with the colleagues and students I had been privileged enough already to share their amazing days with, as I saw so much of their qualities in these amazing students among me for today’s ceremony.

Fast Forward to Woodbridge High School, and heading to the library, everything just simply began and it as a blur.  I remember how I felt, kind of in a coma state when I was walking through the graduation ceremony, and so much happened to me that unexpected day and here I was, stomach in knots and just wondering, how will this all unfold? and I was pretty worked up but I tried to push that down to a place of ignoring it (and folks, I was not graduating).

Robes began to be put on, sashes, colors, students poured in and the reality that this was our last true gig together seeped in all along the way. I did not expect the number of attendees.  The auditorium held 750 – but 300 seats had been set up in the cafeteria and HAD to be close to 100 standing among the the chairs and then it hit me, over 1000 people and – OVER 1000 PEOPLE – HARRY!  WHAT THE HECK!  I worried – will I be able to truly represent my portion of what Aisli and this class has been able to tackle and get through – is that even possible?  I was so lucky to have Mr Weiler as the introduction to the Valedictorian, Kathlin Dinh (amazing young lady)  and I knew I could crash and burn and his eloquence would easily bring a rhythm of success to the event. I remember so many snippets –

including the infamous WHS lip dub: 

Mr. Weiler capitalizing on the fact that Salutatorian was my complete NEMESIS for the evening – seeing the board members donning robes, seeing so many State Troopers, faculty, admin, students, friends supporting this event and making this occur – you want to talk about overwhelming – and I thought I saw HUGE events in Mexico at ASF’s graduations, yes I did and this just felt like we were in the middle of it ALL. The one thing never doubted was the amazing journey so many of these students had made and I was truly humbled by being able to see their last year and make it a complete success thanks to the support of so many, that same support we discussed that Mr. Weiler gave his students the day after this graduation with the “This I Believe” speeches.  I love how things become full circle and how easily they can be missed.

My Speech – with some critiquing from another amazing student in Mexico City – Bessy Hernandez adding some extra’s that would make it resonate – and I felt I was walking two worlds at one graduation.  So hard to explain.  The speech morphing, changing every minute came and went like a blur, with so much on your mind that you can’t push down, I stumbled on the word Salutatorian of course, and did not follow exactly my speech

(as nervousness tends to do) — I did plant the Hand Mud that all the students had played with every single day in the library (look at that silver thing in the pictures) –

Mr Weiler was great, Kathlin as Valedictorian and Aisli as Salutatorian were 100% inspirational but as I looked at the WHS graduating class of 2018 and saw so many AMAZING students that inspired me in one short year, that seemed a lifetime, I also saw something so powerful.  I saw every student I had been lucky enough to come into contact with in my educational career, I saw every colleague that worked, supported and guided me from the very beginning and made me who I am today, EVERYONE, and realized that these students were seeing those people in their lives too.  Add onto that when you see the very people that are part of your school, there that day you are seeing it come to fruition, there again are no words and just emotion remain.  It is a spiritual experience of the highest degree if there ever was one, and we are all lucky to feel that thanks to the hundreds, maybe thousands, of family, friends, students, colleagues, and more that let you marl this moment in time, this very moment thanks to all the moments they gave of themselves for this very moment right now.  

Aisli’s Speech spoke to the determination, emotion, and utter strength that defines the true American Dream and power that so many people deserve and show as  their success, that are often not credited, but tonight their due credit was due for sure.  Mr. Weiler’s amazing allusion to art and symbolism of the art Kathlin made as a student and inspirational individual, to Mr. Chasanov’s moving reminder that these are songs, daughters, and family we also remembered making this amazing journey that would lead to so many others.

I want to say there are few days as great as this one I can recall, but I can say that is not exactly true.  EVERY SINGLE play production, graduation, Open Mic, and event that occurred in Mexico, Woodbridge, Seaford, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, that occurred with the amazing names of students and colleagues I have referred to here – all made this day and future days always feel that personal.  In a time in our world where there are so many individuals that disparage differences, as well as disparage each other, it is heartfelt that so many young individuals will be able to change that negativity and narrow view that is so rampant – and create many more days like this for so many more people.

Aside from these amazing students THIS Graduating class that made this year a personal one, these amazing individuals showed the WHS graduating class they were there for them this whole time:

The WHS Board Members for making sure students knew they were seen on their special day:  Mr. Breeding, Mr Rudy, Mr. Gilefski, Mr McCarron, 

The WHS admin and faculty that made this event occur: Mr. Chasanov, Mr. Prillaman, Dr. Long, Dr. Hall, Mr Chase, Ms. Thompson, Ms. Short, Ms. Margaret Workman, Ms. Little, Ms. Feeley, Ms. Lynch, Ms. Martin, Mr. Weiler, Ms. Gephardt (with amazing new baby), Mr. Emert, Mr. Faulkner, Ms. Reardon, Ms. Jones, Ms. Jolene Workman, Ms. Sharp, Mr. Bell, Ms Webb, Dr. Cole, Ms. Stiles, Ms. Zanowic, Mr. John Davis and every single one of his amazing Custodial SUPER TEAM

You might have missed it but – the AMAZING stature the WHS ROTC gave in the form of standing at attention for the graduates on behalf of SGT Stafford and Davis – as well as the ROTC members were a major touch of class for the night- and beyond.

Add to this Ms Lynn Schofer and Mr. Todd Dudek in capturing these moments, the amazing State Troopers that managed a crowd I think hardly anyone could imagine, 

can you see how such an immediate list of individuals supported such an event that has lasted over 12 years to make this goal, and this is just ONE NIGHT.  I kept being reminded those years Aisli had labelled herself “dumb” because she felt left behind and yet how determined she was to change her future – (and certainly not even CLOSE, not in the same ballpark, let alone COUNTRY to being DUMB) and how so many supported her to do so.  How Kathlin fought for the very right to insure she would succeed on behalf of her family from Vietnam, and what an incredible treasure she became to so many.   Multiply that by the individuals that did the same in this class, so many names, from Tatum, Morgan, Myra, Jayden, Darshil, Kristen, Alexis, Alyssa, Heather, Cassidy, Sofia, David, Jeremy, Yasmine, and I am not even close to so many that made such a n impact in such a short time-  and you have an evening that is in its own category.  Is life good?  Better than I could ever imagine, even on my bad days, thanks to the highest caliber of these individuals around me.  These individuals are ALL the DIFFERENCE. 


About Harry Brake

Employee of Woodbridge High School, Library Media Specialist, Media crazy! :)
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