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June 10, 2004

A sign of the times - Students overcome challenges and excel to graduate from Mercer Island High School

From: Mercer Island Reporter, WA - Jun 10, 2004

Commencement exercises for the Mercer Island High School Class of 2004 will be held at 7 p.m., tomorrow, June 10, at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in downtown Seattle.

by Mary L. Grady
Mercer Island Reporter

Graduation is a time to pause and take a look back -- to see where we have been, before turning toward the future. It is a time to celebrate accomplishments as the names of scholars, achievers, artists and leaders are acknowledged and applauded.

To be sure, the seniors of the Class of 2004 are as diverse and accomplished as any from Mercer Island High School. But celebrated graduates include many who have overcome physical or personal challenges. The success of these students can be attributed in part to the continuing effort of the education community to adapt to and meet the needs of all students. But the grads themselves are successful, teachers and mentors say, due to their own perseverance and resourcefulness.

The local community also pauses to recognize the graduates. The PTA raises money each year for nearly two dozen ''community scholarships'' that honor graduates for excellence in areas from athletics to visual arts to language to drama. Local community service organizations such as the Rotary, Lions, Republican Women, Kiwanis and the Masons recognize and support students all year. Other awards that honor the memory of past graduates or educators, come from private donations.

There are awards that celebrate more personal, but no less laudable, achievements.

The Crest Founders' Award has been presented to senior Justin Burns. The award winner, in the words of presenters, is someone who ''has shown a great deal of positive change in his or her life, has demonstrated faith in his or her life and has never given up, (who) possesses an independent spirit ... and is a person of integrity and self-motivation.''

Burns is set to attend Marymount College in California in the fall. He is just one of 338 Mercer Island High School seniors ready to graduate tomorrow -- practiced and ready -- for whatever comes their way.

THE NAME, PHAEDRA, comes from a doomed queen in a classic Greek tragedy by Euripides. But, for graduating Islander senior Phaedra Goodgame, it looks like life will be anything but a tragedy.

Goodgame will be attending Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., this fall. An ASU sticker is already proudly displayed on the window of her white Ford Blazer. She has a job lined up for the summer. She has definite plans for the future.

Goodgame's journey to graduation was neither easy or routine.

She came to Crest Learning Center, Mercer Island High School's alternative school, during her sophomore year after losing a month of school due to Illness. She suffered from debilitating migraine headaches. At the time, some of her friends began getting into drugs, she said. She knew she had to get away from them, but they were her friends. She had to choose.

''My gut told me to get out of it,'' she said of the situation. ''Lord knows where I'd be now if I hadn't.''

To make up the time she lost, the student began to take her classes at Crest. She thought it would be temporary. She decided to stay, combining classes at Crest with those at the high school.

The senior grew up with her mother on Mercer Island attending Island schools. Goodgame's mother is British, her father's roots are in India and Trinidad.

Goodgame met her father, who lives in Florida, for the first time last April. What perhaps she had looked forward to for so long was not what she had hoped. She didn't know how to feel about this stranger. That memory and the uncertainty it has created, still makes her cry.

But she knows it is time to keep going, to move on.

She had the idea that she would be content with community college for a couple of years, then maybe transfer to a four year college. But something changed her mind. She told herself that she wanted to do a four year college.

Goodgame has won praise from her teachers for her hard work and perseverance.

''Phaedra is a person who has faced some struggles for a while but has overcome them fantastically,'' said Crest teacher, Brody LaRock.

In order to apply to a school she wanted, she had to shore-up her academics. Math has not come easy for her, she admits. She took a math class through ETC, Educational Tutoring & Consulting, Inc. She continued to take classes at Crest, and others at the high school. She looked at schools. A trip to Arizona sealed the deal.

''Phaedra worked hard to get herself ready and in to college,'' said Crest counselor, Simon Connor.

''I have changed drastically,'' Goodgame said. ''I am ready to pick up the pieces and go.''

ASHLEY MENDES has done everything that every smart and capable high school student should do. She has danced since the age of 6 and has been a member of the high school drill team for four years. She has plenty of friends and a date to the prom. She has a drivers license in her purse and is graduating with a 3.53 GPA from Mercer Island High School. She is looking forward to a trip to Europe with a friend in a few weeks. She will attend college in New York.

Mendes just happens to be deaf. And she has a lot to say.

Being deaf and living in a hearing world has been a challenge, she admits.

Born in Alaska, it wasn't until after she reached her first birthday that her parents learned she was deaf. She can only hear muffled sounds. Both of her parents can hear. The deafness comes from a genetic variation that she inherited. Her family communicates with sign language.

She is focused and admired by others. As a testament to the force of her personality, many of Mendes' friends at school have learned to sign so they can talk with her.

''They are really cool about me being deaf,'' the graduate said of her classmates. ''Sometimes I see some random person signing at school and I don't even know them.''

As a 4-year-old, she begged her parents for dancing lessons. Her parents said no -- how could she dance if she couldn't hear, they wondered. She finally won out, taking ballet, jazz and now hip hop, and has been dancing ever since.

For her elementary years, her parents enrolled her in the Northwest School for Hearing Impaired Children in Seattle. There, she excelled. In seventh-grade, she began mainstreaming at Islander Middle School with a sign language interpreter. Many deaf students have a difficult time in regular public schools, often drifting back into schools and communities for the deaf, she noted. But she made new friends and was determined to stay.

Technology has played a role in giving Mendes tools to communicate. The senior always has a phone with her for text messaging and a computer.

''Technology has been wonderful,'' her mother, Joy, said. ''It has kept up with Ashley.''

Even with an interpreter, there is much she can miss, she said. She has had to put in extra hours outside the classroom to keep up, comparing class notes from friends and working with a tutor.

But hard work and challenges only warrant a shrug from this young woman.

Mendes is a winner of one of Principal's Awards for the Class of 2004. She is the recipient of the MIHS drill team's most inspirational award, an award she also won as a freshman. Her teammates and coach voted on the prize.

''She cannot hear the music, but I consider her one of the best dancers on the team,'' one teammate said. ''She inspires because she works so hard for something she loves,'' another noted.

''Ashley has always gone for whatever she wanted,'' her mother said.

Copyright © 2004 Horvitz Newspapers, Inc.