ARLINGTON – For two brothers who addressed the senior class of Weston High School at a graduation ceremony, their message was one of resiliency, rising above pain and tragedy to achieve the seemingly unachievable.
Dylan Beakley and Nathan Weier, who described themselves growing up as “the little kids that didn’t care about school,” lost five close friends in the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting in 2014 when they were attending Marysville Getchell.
“After the tragic event happened, Nathan and I had a good friend who was like a little sister to us,” said Dylan, talking about Gia Soriano, one of the five who died in the shooting. “I used to hang out with her all the time if Nathan and I weren’t together.”
Nathan added: “I still remember that day; it felt like a movie. The shooting showed me how precious life was, and not to take any of it for granted.”
After a few aimless years skipping school, failing classes and hitting an all-time low with graduation nowhere in sight, they entered the Arlington Public Schools system, enrolled in the quasi-military Washington Youth Academy for at-risk youth, and joined Weston in the home stretch to meet their final credit requirements. Now they’re going to sea in the Navy.
The Weston Class of 2018 graduated Wednesday night at a commencement ceremony in the Byrnes Performing Arts Center.
Parents, family, friends, district leaders and staff cheered as 22 of the 36 graduates accepted their diplomas. This year’s ceremony also included students from programs, such as the Alternative Online and the Open Doors programs.
An emotional moment came when Nathan asked his dad to stand up.
“I want to let you know you’re my inspiration, my hero and I love you,” said a choked up and teary-eyed son.
When brother Dylan took the stage next, he called out several Weston teachers and staff to stand for a round of applause, as thanks for all the support they provided him and fellow students.
“If you asked me a year ago if I was going to graduate high school, I would have looked you straight in the face and laughed,” Dylan said.
Dylan took Gia’s death especially hard. He and Nathan “broke down into a terrible hole where there seemed no way out, and we separated.”
When he came to Arlington, he started going out with the boys on weekends and “doing stupid things.”
“What I didn’t know was I was influencing my sisters to do the same thing I was doing,” Dylan said.
That’s when he took advice from school counselors and entered the state academy. Tragedy struck again in November when his cousin, a few months older, died of a drug overdose.
He kept his head strong though, he said and persevered to become valedictorian.
“Even in the darkest times, positivity will shine through,” Dylan said.
Two other students shared their stories of resiliency.
Cambrie Green recalled her first day at Weston as a shy freshman who didn’t know anyone. So many questions: Will I make friends? Will I like my teachers? Am I going to pass my classes?
“I wish I could have duct-taped my mind shut because, man, it was a chatterbox of worry,” she said to laughs. She was able to check “yes” in all the boxes.
Sean O’Brien heard the rumors about what to expect when he started at Weston – a school for bad kids. Like drug dealers, tweakers and thugs.
“When I went through the doors, I knew they were just rumors because what it felt more like was a big family that you really didn’t know,” he said.
He said everyone at Weston is uniquely different, and the staff treats the students as individuals and with respect.
At his previous school, he was often made to feel stupid, and formed the impression that some teachers didn’t mind if he simply skated by.
“In my first year at Weston, something amazing happened,” he said. “I began wanting to go to school.”
It’s because of attending Weston that he wants to become a teacher, and not just any teacher. “A teacher like the ones I have at Weston,” who see ambition even in the quiet students who go unnoticed.
Weston Principal Will Nelson congratulated the students for their inspiration, persistence and adapting to change. “All of our efforts have allowed our students to truly believe they could count on us to help them get to this day.”
The beauty of a small graduating class is being able to single out each student for their unique traits and talents, and the future that awaits them, whether higher education or vocational programs.
The diverse group includes students bound for college, military service, Boeing and aerospace, machining, teaching, nursing, graphic design and video game programming.
Superintendent Chrys Sweeting said she was impressed with the students’ accomplishments, dedication and perserverance.
“Your success today is the result of you making choices to accomplish what it takes to earn a high school diploma,” Sweeting said. “You’ve overcome many barriers and remained faithful to your goal to graduate.”
While many people helped them to reach graduation tonight, she added, “Your success, and your happiness lies within you.”