Among the thousands of students graduating from area high schools this month are some remarkable stories of courage, commitment and accomplishment.
We asked teachers and school administrators to tell us about some of their most outstanding graduates, students whose impact has been felt in the classroom, the school and the community.
They told us about more than 250.
Today and tomorrow in The Times, we introduce you to some of these inspiring standouts of the class of '96.
------------------------------------------ Frankie Cheristave: refugee with true grit Seattle Middle College High School ------------------------------------------
SEATTLE - Frankie Cheristave looked at his past one day and saw that it foretold his future. And it frightened him with its bleakness.
He wanted something different from the life of subsistence farming that his parents, brothers and sisters lived in their native Haiti.
So in 1992, as Haiti seethed with upheaval and political violence months after the coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Cheristave took the only escape there was.
Over his family's objections, he got in a small boat with some friends and made the dangerous crossing from Haiti to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, seeking refuge in the United States.
Eventually, he was resettled in Seattle through Lutheran Social Services' children's refugee program: a 17-year-old in a foreign land who spoke only his native Creole and knew not one soul.
Four years later, Cheristave speaks English fluently, lives on his own, works two jobs to support himself, and will graduate from Seattle's Middle College High School in June with a 3.2 grade-point average (GPA). His school counselor, Julie Zarelli, calls him "a Horatio Alger of the '90s."
"I would describe him as a scholar and a gentleman," she said. "Everyone who comes in contact with Frankie is so impressed with his determination and his independence."
The past four years have been difficult and lonely at times, said Cheristave, who hasn't seen his family since he left Haiti. But "I thought: `I'm young, I need to find some way to get myself out and do better.' "
He lived with an American sponsor, Pauline Seals, until last fall. Seals, who sponsors numerous refugee children, calls Cheristave one of her success stories.
Cheristave's goal is to open his own import-export business one day and to be able to send money home to help his family.
In addition to working part time at Seattle Central Community College and Group Health, Cheristave also tutored young children in math and served as a volunteer tutor at his school. Last spring, he was recognized by the Rotary Club for outstanding academic achievement.
Cheristave received a full scholarship to attend Seattle Central Community College next fall, where he will study international business.
------------------------------ Anika Ryan: competitive skater King's High School ------------------------------
SHORELINE - Confidence and doubt often mingle in midair as Anika Ryan twists out of a crucial toe loop or some other feat on ice.
As an amateur figure skater who has reached the highest skill level in her sport, this King's High School athlete knows pressure.
For her, it is a driving force.
"I perform better under pressure," Ryan says, seemingly unscathed by years of being eyed by judges who scrutinize her every lunge, leap and landing.
That unsettling brew of doubt and confidence surely stirred in her last December when Ryan finished fifth in the 10-state senior ladies sectional figure-skating competition, just one spot shy of qualifying for nationals.
"It's really intimidating sometimes, especially at that level," she said.
Ryan has achieved a sense of balance in her life despite the rigors of competing on ice - and on the track field.
King's, a Christian high school in Shoreline, was the Class A girls state champ in track last spring, and Ryan, captain of the girls' team, placed sixth statewide in the triple jump. This year, she placed fourth.
She's also conquered academic hurdles, having kept up a 3.99 grade-point average. A member of the National Honor Society and this year's homecoming court, she is respected among her peers.
She used her spring break this year and last to travel to Kiev, Ukraine, where she and other King's students distributed aid and worked with children at an orphanage.
"The truth is, they impacted me more than I impacted them," she said.
Randy Hibbard, whom Ryan works for as a teacher's aide, summed her up this way: "She's never one to seek the limelight. She has a gift for pushing other people to the front."
Ryan plans to attend Azusa Pacific University in California this fall, and if she doesn't venture into sports medicine, she'll choose a field that brings her into contact with children. "That's where my heart is," she said.
-------------------------------- Nicole Buys: teacher of teachers Issaquah High School --------------------------------
ISSAQUAH - Listen to Nicole Buys talking about teaching Internet use:
"You have to tell them not to be afraid," the 18-year-old Issaquah High School student says. "They're scared they'll break it. You have to hold their hand a little bit. After that, they become a little less timid."
Buys is talking about teaching teachers, not fellow students. A computer neophyte at the start of her junior year, she enrolled in Issaquah's Technology Information Project and quickly became adept at using the Internet. Her easy confidence with the technology blossomed into an ability to instruct people many years older than she.
She was scheduled to be a gofer at a computer conference in Bellevue this year when conference organizers grumbled that they should have lined up someone to teach a class about Netscape, a popular computer program used to locate information on the part of the Internet called the World Wide Web.
"Netscape's not hard - I'll teach it," Buys offered. "So, I taught it off the top of my head to a roomful of teachers."
In her junior year, Buys took an after-school job creating an Internet Web site for the Issaquah community for Digital Network Architects. Front Street Web, which can be found at http://www.issaquah.org, contains 250 pages worth of information about goings-on in the Issaquah community, as well as links to information around the state, the nation and the world.
Buys' activities reach beyond the computer lab. President of the school's Key Club, she's helped raise money for people with iron-deficiency disorder, visited retirement centers, and conducted a puzzle drive for children. She also helped organize a Christmas party for children at the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle. She's a member of the National Honor Society and Keshamen, a senior service club.
"She's willing to commit to hard work," said Issaquah High activity coordinator Zena Ingles, who was impressed with a campuswide cleanup day that Buys organized, getting student volunteers to devote a Saturday morning picking up trash around the school.
Good grades helped to win Buys a scholarship to Brigham Young University under that school's honors program. She plans to major in electrical and computer engineering.
--------------------------------------- Ebony Pattenaude: volunteer in Mexico Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart ---------------------------------------
BELLEVUE - One of the most rewarding high-school experiences for Ebony Pattenaude came not on the sports fields, where she excelled, but in rural Mexico, where she built cooking stoves and lectured about the importance of brushing one's teeth.
Pattenaude, a 17-year-old student at Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, graduates this spring with a number of honors and accolades to her name.
She spent two months in Guanajuato, Mexico, as part of a program that offers aid to rural people in Central America. In Mexico, Pattenaude slept on the floor and lived with people who enjoyed no luxuries, yet "everyone was just so amazingly nice and warm."
Residents of the small town had health problems because they didn't know the importance of good hygiene. Many people suffered from lung diseases because they did all their cooking over open pit fires, inhaling pollutants.
Pattenaude helped build simple stoves with chimneys to direct the smoke away from the cooks, and lectured on health topics.
Leadership has been one of Pattenaude's strong suits. In her senior year she served as president of the student body, and helped organize a career day for the school.
She was on the school's varsity teams in basketball and soccer, leading her team to state playoffs twice, and was elected to the Soccer League All-Star Team both as a field player and a goalkeeper in 1995.
"She models good sportsmanship and remains calm in even the most difficult situations," said Forest Ridge teacher Marcia O'Dea.
She has earned Honor Roll for the Year recognition for each of the past three years, and is a National Honor Society member. As a result of a strong performance on the Preliminary Scholastic Achievement Test, Pattenaude was singled out as an Outstanding Negro Scholar, a national award.
She's going to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where she'll study philosophy and theology.
--------------------------------------- Shauna Crawford: friend to the disabled Sumner High School ---------------------------------------
SUMNER, Pierce County - Shauna Crawford believes that people with mental disabilities are misunderstood. While some feel unsure of how to act around them, it's been Shauna's goal in life to embrace them.
For two years, Crawford, 17, a senior at Sumner High, has been active with the Special Olympics, serving as friend and companion to her high-school peers with disabilities.
Her teachers say she finds time in her busy academic schedule to help special-education students with schoolwork and school life.
Crawford has a 3.84 grade-point average and is a National Merit Scholarship winner.
She also serves as secretary of the Key Club, is a member of the Honor Society and excels in math and science.
Last year, she organized the first invitational swim meet with four other high schools, giving mentally and physically disabled students a chance to compete and get to know each other.
"It's very important that they learn to deal with other people and learn how to socialize," said Crawford, 17.
Special-education instructor Ken Spellman said Crawford is a rare individual. "She is a caring person who has a lot of compassion and empathy. Unlike other students, she never avoids greeting them in the hallways," he said.
Crawford's compassion for people developed after years of being treated like an outcast herself, she said.
Up until recently, Crawford moved almost every six months, going to new schools and trying to make friends. It was a hard time but it taught her sensitivity to others, she said.
Crawford also takes advanced acting courses at Sumner High, and has been involved in all aspects of theater, including acting, production, makeup, costumes and publicity.
Next year, she plans to attend St. Catherine's College in St. Paul, Minn. One day, she hopes to go into medical research.
E.J. Gong Jr.
------------------------ Bill Heming: Eagle Scout Tyee High School ------------------------
BURIEN - When Bill Heming was 10 years old, his parents' divorce turned his life upside down.
It took the Boy Scouts to pull him right side up again.
"A lot of kids turn to gangs and drugs. I was looking for a place to belong, and finding the Boy Scouts was a turning point in my life," said Heming, 18.
Today, Heming is the editor-in-chief as well as an award-winning political columnist at his school newspaper at Tyee High. He has a 3.8 grade-point average and is enrolled in honors classes.
Heming's teachers say he is an expressive, disciplined and insightful student unafraid to voice his opinion.
He was recently honored as student of the month and is active on the school's Knowledge Bowl team.
For his work on the school newspaper, Heming received an award last month in San Francisco for excellence in newswriting. He has also won other awards for his editorial writing.
Heming also juggles a part-time job and is involved in school plays.
Heming says the lessons he learned from the Boy Scouts and the friendships he made there helped put his life on course for success.
This year, Heming became an Eagle Scout, reaching the highest rank in the Boy Scout organization.
To achieve that rank, Heming built a hiking trail at the Highline YMCA in Burien, recruiting volunteers and getting businesses to donate more than $1,500 in supplies. In two months, he added nearly 50 feet of bridges and boardwalk, and poured gravel on a wooded trail.
Next fall, Heming plans to attend Highline Community College, then transfer to the University of Washington. One day, he wants to become either an engineer, a prosecutor or a journalist.
E.J. Gong Jr.
---------------------------- Rebecca Botham: biology buff Shorewood High School ----------------------------
SHORELINE - For 20 hours each week, Rebecca Botham reconfigures the genes of fruit flies at a University of Washington genetics laboratory.
She loves the work. But there are still 148 hours left in the week. Botham likes to keep busy.
The 17-year-old National Merit Scholarship finalist has been earning straight A's while simultaneously finishing her senior year at Shorewood High School and earning two years of college credits at Shoreline Community College.
She volunteers at Northwest Hospital. Competing on the swim team. Learning ballroom dancing. Reading Stephen King - in German.
Botham once was a shy student who sat quietly in the front of her class, catching a teacher's attention only when she popped a difficult, complex question.
Then she met Barbara Schulz, high-school biology teacher. "She's really dynamic, and she treated me like an equal and answered all the questions I had," Botham said. "She just turned me on to biology and genetics."
About the same time, Botham had run out of high-school math classes. That's when she started taking calculus at the community college.
With Schulz's encouragement, Botham won an American Heart Association summer scholarship that sent her to a microbiology lab at the UW. That fall, her junior year, she became an exchange student and headed to Austria.
"It was probably the most fun year of high school," she said. "I got to do a lot of traveling and hiking. And a lot of goofing off. We went to Greece for two weeks during Easter vacation. Our teacher was a Greek buff. She lectured us on everything about Greece, continuously."
Since coming home, Botham has won a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, where she'll work in the neuroscience lab. She said she hopes to have her own lab some day.
"I've learned to just go out and do the best you can, and if you don't know, just ask for help," she said. "Just go for it instead of worrying what might happen."