Proudly entering the GMU Patriot Center in purple and white robes, Chantilly High’s class of 2006 prepared to say its final goodbye to high school, Monday night, ready to move on to the challenges ahead.
Friends and relatives came to see the grads receive their diplomas, and class president Lucas Scott welcomed them all. He spoke of the tendency of high-school students to try to define themselves as, for example, athletes, academics or performers. But he pointed out that these simple categories disappeared as members of the class got to know one another.
“One-word definitions faded as athletes met actors and actors met academics,” said Scott. And he noted that, while many people might consider high-school graduation as entering “the real world,” high-school experiences were just as real. Offering his last bit of advice to the students, he urged them all to “keep it real.”
Next, Chantilly Principal Jim Kacur took the podium and spoke about his experiences at the school. This graduation marked the end of his first year at Chantilly, and he thanked the class of 2006 for easing his transition, saying, “This class has been a class act.”
Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, he told the students: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are only small matters, compared to what lies within us.”
Kacur then presented the Faculty Award, given to the student who best upholds the ideals of the school. The winner, Brad Siragusa, was a member of the Spanish Honor Society and National Honor Society and received an Advanced Placement diploma. The faculty praised this track star both for his academic and athletic achievements, described by one English teacher as being “just as swift as he is swift.”
More student honors were still to come. Kacur acknowledged the class salutatorian, Samara Beth Zippin. Samara will be attending the University of Virginia in the fall. The class valedictorian, David Wheeler, was acknowledged for his extracurricular activities, such as juggling and rugby, in addition to his stellar academic record.
Wheeler spoke briefly, comparing life to an experience he had four years earlier while riding down a hill on rollerblades: “Wheeler just wheeling along.” He said he underestimated how steep the hill was, comparing it to “situations we don’t know how to get out of.” While his story ended with him in the hospital, he left his classmates with a message about counting their blessings and taking things as they come.
Jordan Reeves received the Charger Award for his volunteer work as a counselor at a camp for children with autism. Then English teacher Lori Bucco delivered the keynote address. Most of her speech was about the anxieties of writing a speech, taking a few false starts from famous speeches in history.
She admitted, “I cannot be Lincoln, Paine or Lennon; I can only be Bucco.” Advising the graduates to always be happy with who they are, she said, “You should want to be the best you.”
When Caitlin Pecot took the stand to recall the class history, a respectful silence fell over the crowd. Towards the end of these students’ sophmore year, they lost one of their classmates, Courtney “Kay” Richard, to meningitis. An empty cap and robe were placed on a chair on stage, and the audience offered a moment of silence in her memory.
While the rest of the night, up until this point, had honored the graduates, they then expressed their gratitude with a gift to the school. The class of 2006 raised the money to place an electronic marquee just off Stringfellow Road. It had been attempted by earlier classes, but 2006 was the first group to succeed.
As each of the graduates received their diplomas, the audience went wild. Chantilly’s crowd was particularly noisy and rambunctious, as Patriot Center security confiscated air horn after air horn — but usually not until after they'd been all used up.
The Chantilly graduates walked outside with heads held high to greet their families and friends. Though it was nighttime, smiles beamed through the dark as the class of 2006 posed for pictures and celebrated this rite of passage.