by Tom Moore
It was a sultry summer evening, and several hundred students, family, staff and volunteers were gathered outside historic Washington Hall in the Squire Park neighborhood of Seattle waiting for the doors to open. One could hear the buzz and feel the excitement several blocks away. The occasion was the annual Rainier Scholars Rites of Passage ceremony and no one was more excited than the 53 rising 6th graders who comprise Cohort 18. They had spent much of the last 14 months in Rainier Scholars and now, each of them would officially become a Rainier Scholar.
Rites of Passage formally celebrates the successful partnership of family, student and program that is established in the Academic Enrichment Phase of the 12-year long Rainier Scholars Program. Students receive diplomas and awards in recognition of their work, but the essential commitment made by families is also celebrated. “Thank you for believing that in this world there are things worth sacrificing for; for understanding the value of hard work; for recognizing that kids will be kids, but at the same time supremely capable,” said Academic Director Sumiko Huff in her opening remarks.
A sense of gratitude and also responsibility was expressed by Feben Tessema, the student speaker chosen by her peers. In describing her Rainier Scholars experience, she said, “Something in my gut told me I was born to do this. Not everybody gets to be part of a community like this. We need to come together in order to change the world. I feel the members of Cohort 18 can be role models — not only for other kids, but also for adults.”
Role models of all ages were abundant. Three orators held the hall spellbound as they recited favorite excerpts with, and by heart. Alexander Vargas-Reid and Solaris Hsiao-Griffin delivered moving passages from The War That Saved My Life, a story of 10-year old’s triumph against all odds set during World War II, and Kwalik Wilson stirred the crowd with an impassioned piece from Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone.
Academic Achievement Awards were given to Angelina Smith and Sameer Ahmed, not just for earning top grades, but also for their commitment to excellence in all areas of study. The Frederick Douglass Award was given to Nyomi Bennet for her dedication to her own, and to her classmates’ education, as well as her willingness to fight through obstacles with grace, wisdom and maturity. The final award, given in honor of the Founder of Rainer Scholars, Bob Hurlbut, went to Jackson Green and Jolie Phirakhong in recognition of those values exemplified by Bob: humility, compassion, empathy and care for others.
In one of the more emotional moments of the evening, Dean of Students, Brandon Hoang (Cohort 4) brought the six student advisors – all Rainier Scholars who had worked closely with Cohort 18 over the last 14 months – up on stage to thank them. Choruses of “We love you!” rose up from their now former charges, bringing tears to more than one advisor, and to many in the audience as well.
“The secret of Rainier Scholars is the trust you place in us that we have your children’s best interests at heart,” said Hurlbut in his closing remarks. “Families, if we can win your trust, there is nothing we cannot do. Scholars, we expect your best every day. It’s all out there waiting for you.”