They waited in a 90-degree hallway for over an hour, but in many ways, they had been waiting their whole lives.
As Lake Braddock’s 629-member class of 2006 stood backstage Tuesday afternoon at George Mason University’s Patriot Center, their emotions ran the gamut, but one sentiment was shared among all the graduates: They’re ready.
“I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m anxious and I’m hot,” said Andrea Pavon of Burke. “But, I’m looking forward to the whole experience [of college]. The new people and new challenges.”
Other students, like Burke resident Kyle Wacyra, said they felt no apprehension at all about graduating.
“I’m so excited to graduate from high school and get out of here,” Wacyra said. “I had an awesome high school experience, but I’m excited to get out and try something new.”
But, it wasn’t just the students who said they are ready for the future, Joe Hills, one of 10 teachers retiring this year, said that after 46 years of teaching he is looking forward to pursuing new opportunities such as traveling to Italy and taking piano lessons.
“It’s been a great career, but it’s time for it to end, I’m 71,” said Hills. “Lake Braddock has been super, but this is a happy day for me.”
Hills, a world studies teacher has taught over 10,000 students during his tenure and was named Virginia’s 2005 Teacher of the Year, Fairfax County’s 2004 Teacher of the Year and received the Washington Post’s Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award in 2004.
Also recognized during the ceremony was Michael Burakow, who received the faculty award for being an outstanding senior. Burakow was described as hardworking, compassionate and creative and was praised for his talents in writing, film and music by Jeanne Endrikat, the retiring science department chair. Burakow received a standing ovation from his peers as he walked to the stage to receive his award.
THROUGHOUT THE ceremony a variety of people spoke to the graduates, including Principal Linda Burke, Stephanie Conant and Jennifer Wilson, two of the class’s 29 valedictorians and Scott Cherry, the assistant men’s basketball coach at GMU.
During Burke's address, she noted some of the more remarkable characteristics of the graduating class. She boasted that the class was offered a total of $3,310,571.60 in scholarships, preliminary results indicate the average SOL pass rate for the high school was 93 this school year and 128 students will receive Advanced Placement diplomas.
Subsequent speakers continued the theme of looking toward the future by advising students to always strive to reach their goals.
“The first thing we teach [in basketball] is believe in yourself, you have to believe that you can do anything,” Cherry said. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something.”
Throughout his speech, Cherry likened the experience of this year’s George Mason men’s basketball team to the challenges the graduates will face in the upcoming years. He explained that at the start of this year’s NCAA March Madness, some sports commentators said George Mason didn’t deserve to participate in the tournament.
“Our guys did not believe the things that were being said on T.V.,” Cherry said. “They believed in themselves, they believed in the program, they believed in the coaches and went out and proceeded to beat the teams that we needed to beat to reach the goal we set — to reach the Final Four.”
Near the end of the graduation ceremony, students' programs were turned into paper airplanes, beach balls bounced on the floor of the arena and finally, over 600 caps flew into the air as Burke announced the students had officially “graduated.”
The energy in the center reached its climax as the class of 2006, clad in a regal hue of purple, hurriedly filed out of the center toward the smiles and embraces of their friends and families.
As the students made their way outdoors, choruses of "You made it" and "You're done" greeted them. But, the graduates hardly needed such affirmation in order to recognize their accomplishment.
In between congratulating his friends and keeping an eye out for his parents, William Murray of Fairfax Station thought about the road ahead. "I'm so excited. Now I'm just ready to have fun, go to the grad party and move on to college."