Meet the students behind the Highest grad rate


Courtesy of Colby Knipe

Allie Nichols, Layout/Design Manager

The FLDOE released the WSHS graduation rate sometime around January 9. Principal Pete Gaffney posted about this outstanding accomplishment on his Instagram (@papagaff_), “We are proud to announce the WSHS Grade Rate for the 2019-2020 Schools Year… 96.6%!” He continued to say thank you to everyone involved- “our students, teachers, counselors, non-instructional staff, clerical personnel, admin and the entire WSHS Community- Job well done!” 

Below the kind words, he listed the history of grad rates. 2014 held the number of 80%, and it jumped to 85% in 2016. Two years later, 2018, 89% of seniors graduated. That’s a 17% jump. He closed by writing, “Kudos to BearNation!! Proud to work with this great community!… GO BEARS!” Alumni shared their thoughts on graduating with this achievement. 

Star volleyball player Hope Matchner thought it was “cool” she helped contribute to the graduation rate. She acclaimed a motivating factor, “[my teachers] were all so understanding during hard times and never treated me as lower than them. They always respected me and my opinion which helped me want to learn more.” 

Matchner claimed the hardest part about college is finding a school that fits your needs. She said, “It’s mentally exhausting to constantly email schools and either get no response or getting told you aren’t what they want for their program.” Her highlight of senior year was winning regional finals. She remarked, “ I think winning that last point and remembering being with my team and the crowd rushing in will be one of the best moments of my life. I’ve never felt more on top of the world.” Matchner is now in New York City playing volleyball at Iona College where she also studies psychology. 

Number three in “Top 10 Seniors (non IB)” Randy McLaughlin proudly said, “Our success as a class wouldn’t have been possible without a strong final push from all of our students and the support of our administration who helped adjust our education to an online format.” However, it “really hurt my sense of community, so I truly felt on my own.” He said his prayers, the hardest part of the year was “lack of vision into my future. It was difficult to sense that I was stepping into a new stage of my life. Without goals it’s hard to tell if I will end up letting myself down.” Clarity is important to McLaughlin, so it was tough to cope with everything. 

On a brighter side, he loved his time at WSHS, recalling time spent cracking jokes in Mr. Llerna’s class. He enjoyed being personal with the five people in class while still managing to pull off a 5 on the exam.” Now, he’s got MIT “in the bag” while still spending time laughing with friends. He “couldn’t be more excited for what Boston has in store, [and] I thank God, my family, and the bears for helping me get here!”

Previous Editor-in-chief Riley Hazel was a bit taken away by the news, noting it was a large jump. She thought the mix of COVID and online school would hinder students to not make it to the end. Despite it all, she said, “All of the teachers made incredible efforts for us students to get to the point where we are now. I’m so grateful for the teachers that I had as well.” The unpredictability of the year was challenging and led to many questions, but looking back, Hazel realized, “what really matters to me is that I got that diploma which was by no means an easy feat.” She sweetly titled The Bear Truth the highlight of her year and stated, “Leading the group of ladies all the way to a national award was the best.” Right now, Hazel is surviving college with her friends saying, “We are all in this together.”

Swimmer Mei Lin Howard was surprised about the news considering everything. She called the year “tough” and said, “The burnout plus senioritis combo was an absolute nightmare for my work ethic.” Moreover, she was motivated by the thought she was nearly done. “The whole seeing the light at the end of the tunnel thing,” she expressed. Juggling Dual Enrollment and normal classes, especially speech, was demanding. Howard thinks she “deleted half [her] brain cells doing Lit journals.” All the cancellations were also a bummer to her. She called attention to the physics field trip as well as not taking the corresponding exam which “saved [her] remaining sanity.” She spotlighted shenanigans in Parker’s, Dycus’, Efland’s, and Register’s classes where she became closer with friends who she still has in her life today. Howard is now happily working in second semester at SSC.

Kaitlyn Cooper feels good her class worked together to make sure they all passed together. She pushed even on the days she didn’t want to go to school because she knew “I wanted to go somewhere in life, and if  I couldn’t train myself to get up and go to school, I was not going to have any discipline to get up and go to work or college.” Realizing sometimes one has to let people go in order to move on even though it hurts was trying for her. When everything was horrible, Cooper knew she could count on her teachers. She said, “ I had to grow up a lot, and when I needed help or someone to listen to, most of my teachers were always there. I really miss a lot of them, and I wish they were more available to talk to.” She is also at SSC and really enjoys her time.

Former Debate Club President Tabitha Addison thought the effort was amazing saying, “A lot of people worked really hard. I know a lot of people didn’t think they would graduate, especially with the pandemic and everything being so out of whack.” She felt she never got senioritis because “senior year was one of my hardest working years, and I definitely didn’t want to just give up. I was in the home stretch, so why should I just stop? ” She missed most of the traditional senior experiences like dances but was happy to be part of the debate club. She said, “Getting to put myself out there and actually having fun with the class was great. I pushed myself really hard to make friends there and then I came to lead the club, not a very big club but it was still a definite win for me.” Addison presses forward and awaits an exciting future. 

Spirited Colby Knipe said, “It feels awesome to be part of the highest rated graduation class. Shoutout to Mr. Gaffney.” He attributed his self discipline to pushing him to the end saying, “I did what I had to do.” All the revisions were “certainly a challenge,” but he soon realized it wasn’t too bad. While it did not match traditional standards, graduation day was still a highlight for this Leadership member. He was “really pleased with the graduation the administration was able to pull off in these uncertain times.” Knipe continues to pursue his bright future and aims to make the world a better place in dark times.