GRADUATING IN STYLE – Members of the Swinomish Canoe Family lead tribal La Conner High School graduates, dressed for success, to the annual Cedar Hats and Eagle Feathers ceremony at Swadabs Landing Park. The honored guests received prayers and words of encouragement from multiple speakers.  	                                                                                                                                         – Photo by Bill Reynolds
GRADUATING IN STYLE – Members of the Swinomish Canoe Family lead tribal La Conner High School graduates, dressed for success, to the annual Cedar Hats and Eagle Feathers ceremony at Swadabs Landing Park. The honored guests received prayers and words of encouragement from multiple speakers. – Photo by Bill Reynolds

High school and college graduates always look sharp this time of year in their caps and gowns. 

But for true style points, it is hard to beat La Conner’s Swinomish high school graduates, who were decked out in colorful blankets, traditional cedar hats and eagle feathers for special pre-commencement ceremonies at Swadabs Landing Park last Wednesday. 

There was plenty of substance, too. 

Prayer warriors and Swinomish senators provided congratulations and words of encouragement to the community’s 2021 graduates, who will join their La Conner high classmates for commencement exercises this Friday at Whittaker Field. 

Barb James addressed the graduates as both a tribal senator and prayer warrior at the annual Cedar Hat and Eagle Feather presentation.

“You’re blessed,” she told the Swinomish teens. “Your graduation is so special to yourselves, your families and your community. Looking at each of you now, my heart feels very proud.” 

James shared a prayer of her late grandmother saying no matter where Swinomish grads go in life to make their respective marks on the world, they can count on an unwavering support network at home. 

“The moment you were born,” she reminded them, “there were smiles on people’s faces. When you have those challenges in life, know that I’m on your side hoping you make the right choices. 

“Please know that you’re loved,” James said, “because I feel reassured that each of you have someone looking after you.” 

Doug York prayed that the tribal graduates be blessed with hope and bright futures. 

“Let them go boldly and cheerfully into the future,” he implored. 

Joe McCoy of the Indian Shaker Church praised the Swinomish graduates for their academic achievements thus far and said they have the good fortune of carving out further academic success and accomplishments while still in their youth. 

McCoy, by contrast, had to wait until he was a senior citizen before enrolling in college, graduating at age 70. 

“I had a grade point average of 3.7,” he recalled. “I shocked myself and couldn’t help but wonder what I could’ve accomplished if I’d had that opportunity when I was younger.” 

Speaking to parents and grandparents in the audience, McCoy harkened back to words he heard while growing up. 

“Enjoy your children while they’re young,” McCoy advised. “When they’re grown, that’s when you pray.” 

Swinomish Senator Brian Porter encouraged the tribal graduates to embrace the future knowing the ones that love them have their backs. 

“We’ve all been through this,” said Porter. “We call it commencement. It’s the end of one thing and the start of something else. 

“Everyone sitting here is your community,” he added. “We will always be here for you. I went to school in Kansas – a long way from home. But know that home is always here.” 

Senate Chairman Steve Edwards sent the grads off with counsel designed to last a lifetime. 

“Always look forward,” he said, “in order to be successful. Don’t ever doubt yourself.” 

There could be no doubt, of course, that on this day the Swinomish grads were dressed for success.