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Feature - First among equals

A year of firsts for the Class of 2002 and the Whistler community

They are the first class to go all the way from Grade 7 to graduation at Whistler Secondary.

They are the first students to successfully organize a dry grad celebration.

They are the first class to have six students whose academic average is over 90 per cent.

It’s likely these grads will be awarded more scholarships than any other Whistler grad class and more of them will go onto university than ever before.

"I can sum up my impressions of this class in one word," said principal Ken Davies.


It’s pretty hard not to feel like toasting this class and giving the community a few healthy pats on the back when you learn about the Grads of 2002.

Not only does the class boast academic over-achievers, there are artistic stars and possibly future Olympians too.

"They are versatile and engaging," said Davies.

"They are full of life. They strive toward excellence in everything that they do.

"They try to gather as much out of life as they can. I’ve learned a lot from them in just being part of it.

"I’m going into my 26 th year in education and there is no question that this is one of the grad classes that will stand out as a bench mark in my career."

Davies isn’t surprised that this class, of all the recent grad classes, has been the one to pull off something different and have a Dry Grad.

"They have really broken the ground and it wasn’t a surprise that they could do it," he said.

"What started out as an idea led to action. And because they are willing to be objective, willing to take some risks, this is what the result is.

"This sends a message that we are trying to keep our youth safe. It’s a message with regard to making appropriate choices.

"We do not want any of our kids to be statistics as is the case at this time of the year across the province.

"It is an opportunity to have a healthy alternative choice done within the spirit it is intended for. It will be wonderful. It is going to be just a hoot."

The grads will get gussied up tomorrow for their prom at the Westin. After the dinner-dance they will be bussed to Myrtle Philip Community School to take part in the first Dry Grad.

While the idea of a Dry Grad has come up before it has never successfully been held as students didn’t support it.

But this year four students, including Kath Rybar, went to a conference in Vernon to learn more about it and when they came back their enthusiasm for the idea got the ball rolling.

"We had been hearing a lot, especially at that time, about a number of different accidents involving teenagers in Vancouver," said Rybar, who will be travelling to the south of England to attend university at Herstmonceux Castle as part of a UBC program.

"At that point we hadn’t had a single student that we had known of that had been killed or badly injured in a car accident and so we thought we wanted to keep it that way."

Rybar admits that not every student thinks a Dry Grad is a good idea.

"But I think that for the most part now people are getting pretty excited about the whole deal."

There will be lots to do at the event.

"It is going to be a really fun night," said Rybar.

"The message is you don’t need to be drunk to have fun. We want to show kids that there are other ways to do things."

Said grad Hailey DeKraker: "I think it is pretty good for us to take it on.

"I think if any class this was the grad class to do it.

"I think it is important to show that we have that control. That not all teenagers are the stereotype of the partyers and for this one big occasion, which would usually have a big party, we can go without drinking.

"It shows that we can plan and organize an event like this."

Trevor O’Reilly, who graduates this year and hopes to pursue university in the States in the next couple of years on a golf scholarship, has lived here all his life.

"(Dry Grad) should be interesting," he said.

"It sounds good so far. There will be a lot of activities and stuff to do.

"At first people were really skeptical about it, but a lot of people worked really hard, (youth worker) Greg McDonnell, the parents, and others so it should be great.

"It’s really just taking one night off drinking, not that we drink or anything. So it is not that hard to sacrifice one night even though some people think it is the biggest deal."

There will be a mocktail bar – with blender drinks as the theme to go along with the two hot tubs donated for the evening by Splash Nash Spa’s.

The gym will hold a Velcro obstacle course, a sumo-wrestling ring, complete with costumes, a giant blow-up bouncy room, and other activities.

There will be rooms of food thanks to donations from Nesters, the Grocery Store, and Food Plus. A giant Twister game will also keep kids entertained, as will a Jell-O eating contest.

Music lovers can dance to music by Mat the Alien until 3:30 a.m.

And at around 5 a.m. some lucky student will get to drive away in a car thanks to the donation of a $5,000 white Cutlass Calais by Mountain Motors.

There will be no parents at the event, said organizer McDonnell, community youth outreach worker with Whistler Community Services Society.

But they will be monitored by other youth workers and some Sea to Sky security workers who have volunteered their time.

"It is pretty clear these are awesome kids," said McDonnell.

"This grad class is pretty fantastic. The grad committee has taken a real respectful attitude toward the event. They know that once we get one of these under our belt it will be much easier to do these in future years.

"It has been hard to get one of these off the ground, and I think one of the successes of this one, is that the youth are right behind it and I think that will make it easier for it to happen next year.

"There have been situations where parents have put on a supervised wet event and there hasn’t been any problems with those.

"But what I think the community is trying to say, along with the Parent Advisory Council and the Drug and Alcohol Committee, is that there is a better way around it and that is by doing one of these dry grads."

McDonnell, who spent considerable time with many of the grads during a portion of their outdoor education class, is impressed.

"I see a group of excellent young people and I am really optimistic about them going on in the future," he said.

"They just seem to be a whole lot of bright young stars."

For some, the only explanation for the secret of the grad’s success is "the water."

How do you explain such a great class? A class which has produced a member of the national snowboard team, three students who have achieved such high marks their university tuition has been waived, as well as many other success stories.

"It’s a bit of a mystery," said teacher Gail Rybar, whose daughter Kath graduates this year.

Rybar said each class has a different "atmosphere" and the interactions between the students sets the tone for the year.

But since many of the 54 graduating students have been in school together since Kindergarten they have been working on their own special class personality for many years.

In elementary school things were different for this class, said Rybar. They were not so unified.

But as the students moved through high school a certain sense of strength was gained by less popular students and the strength broke down barriers creating a class of students who move easily amongst each other no matter what the occasion.

"I think we have really been connected to the school and we really do know everybody in the school," said Hailey DeKraker, who will attend the arts program at UBC this September on full scholarship and who has also won a number of other national awards.

"Our grad class has not just been through high school together but our whole education and so we are a pretty tight knit group."

DeKraker points to the sleepover held last Thursday night at the school as a great example of the harmony in the class.

"It was one of those nights where everybody talked with everybody about anything," she said.

The mood was still jovial at 6:30 a.m. the next morning as teachers and Principal Davies, sporting a floral apron, served up scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, muffins, fresh fruit, and orange juice.

Looking no worse for wear after the sleepover Blake Jamieson described this grad year as amazing.

Jamieson has a unique perspective on the class and the year because he only moved to Whistler a year ago, from Tsawwassen, to ski race.

"It’s been great," he said. "Well, they pretend to like me anyway," he quipped.

Jamieson plans to keep ski racing for the UBC team, where he will be taking sciences.

"The people are really genuine," he said of Whistler.

"People really do hold a large sense of community here. That is really important to them and I had never experienced that before. At first I thought it was a little quirky I guess, and then it really grows on you and it is very nice."

Principal Davies believes the sense of community the class shares and their success is no accident.

"Of course you have the kids, but the parents and the home environment that they come from, and the nurturing that has taken place along the way I think it speaks well of them and bodes well for the community," he said.

"The parents, from what I have seen want the best for their kids. Sometimes we may disagree on what that is but there is no question that what I have seen is that they want the best and you can’t argue with that. These guys are symbolic of that attitude.

"I think the parents’ expectations and the students’ goals have all helped in affecting, in a positive way, the culture and how the school can respond."

There have been criticisms levelled at the school over the years about the use of the quarter system, which allows many young athletes to pursue both their sport and school, and its general academic level.

School counsellor Kevin Titus believes the achievements of this class puts many of those concerns to rest.

"There has been a lot of criticism about the quarter system and about the school," said Titus.

"Some people have been taking their kids out of school and putting them in private school because they have some perception in their minds that the school isn’t providing enough of an education and they can’t get the courses they need to go on.

"But we have so many kids who are going exactly where they want to be going and have been able to do it just fine with our little school here.

"We have excellent teachers, we have excellent programs, and we are producing excellent students."

Last year about 18 students applied for scholarships, said Titus. This year there are more than 35 applying.

There are six students whose marks are over 90 per cent, three of them have marks above 95 per cent. About a third of the class received grades of over 80 per cent.

"That is huge," said Titus. "We rarely have one student that high (over 95 per cent) and this year we have three.

"There are some amazing students here.

"This says Whistler Secondary is capable of producing students on par with any other school in the province and we have three main students who are competing with the best in the province."

Students won’t know who’s won the scholarships until their graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 8.

But students have not just succeeded academically. Mercedes Nicoll will join the national snowboard team.

"It’s great," she said, clearly excited at the honour she has won through hard work and dedication.

"I will be travelling and competing with the national team and going to Europe and the States and so on."

Several other students have excelled in sports, including women’s hockey player Danny Ayearst, national junior mountain bike champion Jeff Beatty XXXXXX, and skiers XXXX.

For the teachers and the students it has been an amazing year.

"We will miss them," said Gail Rybar.

For Principal Davies the challenge will be to help the upcoming grads do their best. Part of that will be to pass along a lesson from this year’s class.

"I will keep emphasizing to all the kids coming up what I learned again this year: Keep no stone unturned," he said.

"Don’t say, ‘I wish I could have, I wish I would have.’ Do it now, and these grads have definitely shown how to do that."