Fourstudents, four stories, four futures

Published on Thu, Jun 3, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Four students, four stories, four futures

By Jack Kintner

Next Monday evening 114 graduating seniors will march into the gym and receive their high school diplomas as the Blaine high school class of 2004.

It’s the only time in their high school careers when the entire class will be dressed alike, and the uniformity of the caps and gowns contrasts with what’s inside, a varied group of unique individuals.

To illustrate this, four seniors were chosen to be profiled as typical examples of the class. Each has some impressive qualities, as would any four students, and each has some ways in which they’re just average kids.

Two of them made mistakes in judgment that could have had a mighty impact on their high school careers prematurely, but instead they learned, changed and so far have thrived on their ability to learn from their mistakes.

One of them is unusually gifted at drawing, an artistic ability that surfaced in kindergarten. And one moved almost 5,000 miles with her family, leaving Russia at the age of 12, traveling first to Lynden and two years later to Blaine in time for her ninth grade year.

Svetlana Grigoryev
Grigoryev grew up in Dal’nerechensk in eastern Russia, a town she describes as “being a lot like Blaine - small and friendly.” Like Blaine, it’s on an international border, in this case between Russia and China a couple of hundred miles north of Vladivostok.
The oldest of Yuriy and Lyudmila’s eight children, Svetlana knew no English when she and her family arrived in Lynden in 1998.
She learned quickly through a combination of English classes and by working with the rest of the family in Yuriy’s office cleaning business. In 2000 the family moved to Blaine and Svetlana began high school. That year she posted her only grade less than an A in her entire high school career, getting a B+ in English. “Yeah, that was the only one, but after that I worked harder,” she said.
Several Blaine staff and faculty members say that Svetlana is simply the hardest working student they’ve ever seen.
“She’s got an intrinsic work ethic that will get her anywhere she wants to go, and has the depth to be a quality human being besides,” said counselor Rick VanderYacht. He told of trying to get her to go into medicine, “but her family knew that she’d need a large people quotient in whatever she did, so they pushed her toward nursing.”
Grigoryev wasn’t at first sure, but once she got a taste of nursing under a health sciences curriculum she’s enrolled in as part of the running start program, she jumped in whole-heartedly. The program, directed by Karen Moren of Bellingham, puts her in various health sciences venues around Whatcom County, many of them at St. Joseph Hospital. She also works 15 hours a week at Stafholt Good Samaritan Center.
“I don’t have time to do sports,” she says when asked what she does for fun. She and her family are a part of a Russian Pentecostal congregation that worships Sunday afternoons at Blaine’s Unitarian Church, and she’s their musician, playing the piano for almost the entire worship hour. “And that’s fun for me to do,” she says with her characteristic grin.
Her favorite subjects are math and english, and she quickly named english teachers Vivian Bleecker and Neil Nix as her favorites. “I’m glad she’s going into nursing,” Bleecker grinned, “because with someone like her to take care of me I won’t worry so much when I’m old.”
In some ways Grigoryev still exhibits her old-world values. “I’ve never known her to wear pants,” said Bleecker, “and her choice of careers was huge for her family. Her parents knew she likes people, likes being around them and helping, so nursing’s a good choice.”
“She’s one of the most delightful young ladies I’ve ever come across in almost 30 years in this business,” said Blaine high school principal Dan Newell, “and there’s no question that whatever she tries, she’ll be highly successful. If the rest of our kids had her work ethic, I’d be out of a job.”

Robert Oswald
Known as Bobby to his friends, Oswald has grown up quickly in high school, going from being tossed out as a freshman for knife fighting to being awarded a chance to establish an individual training account with a non-profit organization called the Workforce Development Council. If Oswald is accepted, the agency will support him through the training needed to get a family wage job. The connection with the agency was made through high school counselor Karen Mulholland.
Oswald wants to be an electrician, and once he graduates he’ll move to Bellingham and enroll at Bellingham Technical College. Workforce Council spokesman Jim Onion said that his job is to find those students who “may otherwise fall through the cracks, and if they’re diligent and seem to have some promise then we try to help them get a career started.”
Oswald is looking for an internship for the summer, and needs to talk with two electricians as a part of his application process as well as with two training schools. He knows he wants to learn a trade but he wants something more reliable and steady than what his father had.
“I saw my dad struggle with his dry-walling trade, and knew that I wanted something different. I also knew that I’d have to do it myself,” Oswald said.
Oswald got into a fight his freshman year with someone bigger and ended up with him brandishing a knife in the other fellow’s face.
He was sent to the alternative Timber Ridge high school, a place that he says convinced him of his need for structure and hard work to get anywhere, so he began to set goals for himself and settle down, he said.
“But then my Dad moved to Elma,” he said, “and that wasn’t so good.” Initially living with friends, he ended up in a tent after his dad was kicked out of the friend’s house. He spent two years at Elma high school.
He came back to Blaine and his grandparents agreed to give him a place to stay for his senior year. “Without them I wouldn’t have graduated,” Oswald says.
“I guess we can be kind of hard-headed in our family,” Oswald said, “but for me I’ve always had to earn the money to get anything myself, everything from my school shoes to anything else I wanted. I think being an electrician is a good way to go. I’ll sure find out.”

Kimberly Harmening
The longest day of Kimberly Harmening’s life was February 7 of this year. “A few of us got together at a house out in Semiahmoo,” she began, “and before long things kind of got out of hand.”
Someone offered her a can of beer, which she drank shortly before a neighbor’s complaint brought the Blaine police. They shut down the party and gave everyone breathalyzer tests, then called parents to come and pick them up.
“My folks grounded me for a month,” Harmening said. That’s not such a bad deal, but tears welled up when she talked of finding out that she was permanently kicked off the varsity basketball team for violating the athletic code.
There were other varsity athletes who’d been drinking that night and more than 20 other students at the party, but due to differences in the way the code was handled by different coaches, she was the only varsity athlete to be banned from her sport for the rest of the year. The school board has since required that the code be the same for all sports.
“Everybody’s responsible for their own actions, and I knew the rules and I broke them,” she said, refusing to compare her punishment with that received by others or to say it had been unfair.
What hurt her, she said, was being rejected from the program and from a group of people, coaches, players and fans, that dominated her life for so many years. Harmening is one of a group of Blaine girls who have played basketball together since they were grade schoolers in the Boys and Girls Club programs.
Last year and this, they were all but certain to win the state high school basketball championship, winning 50 games while losing only two over that span and being ranked either first or second in the state all year long. The team finished third last year and in fifth this year.
“Kids would come up and say loud enough for me to hear, ‘There goes the state tournament,’” she said. “The other girls on the team were awkward at first, but we’ve pretty well worked it all out.” Denied permission to sit with or even near the team, Harmening nonetheless attended almost all the games, even going to Yakima for the state tournament.
But even with the support of close friends like seniors Krissa Jones and Jess Freeman and junior Ashley Olason, it was no picnic. “I cried for a long time. I didn’t sleep for three days. I felt totally drained, stressed out and depressed,” she said. “It was just awful. People who loved me said they didn’t want to see me again because of what I did.”
She wrote personal notes to others involved with the program, saying that she “knew I made a bad decision that affected a lot more people than just me. When you’re ready to forgive me I’m ready to be forgiven.”
Harmening is a popular girl who has twice been class president and this year was associated students executive vice-president and was also the homecoming queen. She said the incident was made all the more difficult because she was “exposed to the whole community. They made me an example,” she said.
But despite going into the incident in great detail, she not only refused to assign blame for what happened anywhere but in her own lap, she said that there were other kids “who probably thought twice before drinking at a party after what happened to me. Someone could even be alive now, but not because of what I did but because of the punishment.”
It may have to do with one of her other activities, being president of Drug Free Youth. Normally a student caught in violation is asked to resign from the group, but her advisor intervened on her behalf, figuring she’d lost enough, and she’s still with the group.
Her faith was another source of strength. When asked where she goes, she named three churches and a non-denominational camp: “Well, I go to Cornwall Church and one in Canada called Peace Portal, and to St. Anne Catholic Church here and I’ve been going to summer camp at the Firs.” A lifeguard there last year, she’ll wait the required year after high school and then hopes to return to the Firs camp as a counselor.
“I’m getting on with my life now, going to WSU this fall,” Harmening said. She’ll join older sister Heidi in Pullman and plans on going into elementary education. She’ll graduate with honors four months to the day after the party.
“One bad decision hasn’t ruined my life,” she concluded, “I came out on top. I sure learned a lot, but I’m OK.”

Lisa Kent
When her kindergarten teacher told the class to draw, everyone else brought their paper to Lisa Kent because “I knew how to draw, and it seemed like a nice thing to do for your friends.”
Lisa is Mike and Rose Kent’s second of four children, and has been drawing since she can remember being able to pick up something that made a mark. At 9 years of age she began taking lessons from Patty McKay in Lynden, about the time she began home-schooling under her mother. She and her mother are close and both enjoyed the long hours at home.
“But when it came time for high school, that was like moving into a new town,” said Kent, “because I was pretty shy.” Her laugh comes easily, though, and she said it didn’t take too long for her to find a niche. One of her best friends is fellow visual artist Jessica Teng. “She’s been an inspiration,” Kent said, “and helped me to see that I could go to art school and make a living doing this.”
She ticks off a list of animation companies that she’d like to work for one day, “places like Pixar, who did Toy Story and Monsters, or Wizards of the Coast.”
The gregarious senior, who’s been on the tennis team and cheer squad, seems to have a calm center from which she creates a wide variety of art, all done with a maturity that seems a little beyond what one usually sees in a high school senior.
“I really like Emily Carr’s work,” Kent said in speaking of artists she admires. “Carr has great trees, really good forests,” she said.
She’s as good in her field as a champion athlete, but it never gets the same notice. “It’s because with an athlete you see the process,” she said, “where with art you see the result. It doesn’t get repeated over and over.”
All this seems fine with Kent. “I see my world in three dimensions,” she said, “and notice shapes, and colors. I handle my world by looking at it, and copying it if I need to,” she said, “and I remember and think in images. I like sharing that with people, showing them something I see and then making it so they can, too.”
Her strengths, she says, are her artistic talent, her family and friends, and her work ethic. Kent will attend the Seattle Art Institute this fall, and by doing so will follow in a family tradition.
Older brother Shawn, 25, is a photographer and graphic designer. Younger brother Brian, 16, is a musician and younger sister Brittney, 10, “is your basic people person.”