On a sunny June afternoon, graduating district seniors gathered outside their former elementary school, Somerset, to reconnect, smile, laugh and hug before they begin their next chapter.
The tradition of seniors returning to Somerset has been carried out for more than a decade. Former Somerset teacher Jean Lorch started it when her first class was graduating because she had seen it done once in the past and thought it was a fun opportunity, she said.
“It’s just a way for students to celebrate being at Somerset and for the teachers to celebrate them,” said Lorch.
Julian Kumar, a senior at Newport said he came back to see old friends and teachers. He is happy to have an event like this “because I get to see the teachers that raised me up,” he said.
Christian Vander Molen, classmates with Kumar, said, “It’s cool to come back and see how far you’ve come and what’s going on at your school that you used to go to.”
Kumar and Vander Molen thought about memories while they were Superstars, including playing with friends on the playground and safety patrol.
Sammamish senior, Madeline Gangle also attended Somerset with Kumar and Vander Molen.
“I just came because I have a lot of friends here and it’s cool to see everyone now,” said Gangle. She remembers when she was in elementary school and seniors would come back to Somerset for the event.
Reflecting back on her favorite memory from her time in the district, Gangle landed on a time she was at Somerset. She said, “graduating fifth grade because I had such a cool teacher.”
Many teachers attend the event, with old yearbooks in hand. Part of the fun is trying to recognize who’s who. Some students also tour the school building, and visit their former teachers’ classrooms.
Robyn Wells, current second grade teacher at Somerset has been attending this event for years. “To have an event like this shows how connected a neighborhood school is when kids and families want to come back and reunite,” said Wells.
Jennifer Hampshire also attended the event this year, and formerly taught at this year’s graduating class while they were at Somerset. Reflecting on the event she said, “the kids that you worried about when they were younger, seeing them maturing as adults and realizing they are okay. It gives me perspective as a teacher that what matters more than anything is the emotional well-being of my kids, and that they are going to get there academically no matter what.”
Kelli Lane, a former teacher at Somerset, and now a teacher at Eastgate came to the event for the first time this year.
“This is my first graduating class,” said Lane. “I taught them as first graders and it was my first year teaching at Somerset. I’ve been looking forward to attending this event for years.”
Thinking about what this event means to the Somerset community, Lane said, “I think it means just coming back to the roots, the roots that were established here at Somerset. Kids have gone to Tyee, Tillicum, Newport and other Bellevue high schools, but now they are coming back to where it started.”