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GRADUATION SPOTLIGHT | Bear Creek students score on the field and in the classroom
For Caroline Bridgwater and Stan Leszynski, high school has been about getting involved and making sure their last four years at The Bear Creek School were the best they could be — for themselves as well as their classmates.
The two graduating seniors challenged themselves to try new things and as a result, discovered passions and skills they never would have found otherwise and will take with them as they move forward.
At 2 p.m. on Saturday, Bridgwater and Leszynski will take their first steps forward from high school at the Bear Creek commencement ceremony at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue. They will be two of 56 seniors graduating from the school.
SCHOOL PRIDE AND HIDDEN PASSION
When Bridgwater entered her freshman year, she decided to join Bear Creek’s associated student body (ASB) as a class representative. As a sophomore and junior, she was the ASB treasurer. And for her final year at Bear Creek, she went for the highest office in student government: president.
“I never really do anything halfway,” Bridgwater said about working her way up in office. “Coming into senior year, I wanted that level of involvement in the school and responsibility.”
It was a responsibility the 18-year-old Redmond resident took very seriously as she has spent this last school year working with the rest of the Bear Creek ASB to achieve its main goal of promoting school spirit and school pride.
Bridgwater, who has been at Bear Creek since fourth grade, said the biggest piece of proof that they accomplished this goal was the boys basketball team’s run at the state tournament in March. The team finished third and Bridgwater said even though the tournament was in Spokane, the Grizzlies had a large fan base travel to eastern Washington and stay in hotels for multiple nights to show their support as a unified community.
And while Bridgwater — who also spent four years on the girls varsity soccer team — has been heavily involved in school activities, it was outside of school that she found something she truly loved.
During the summer before her junior year, she began volunteering at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland. She began working at the information desk but eventually branched out to the hospital’s maternal-fetal department and breast health center. At the same time, Bridgwater was taking a biology class, which she ended up really enjoying.
And it all clicked.
“Things merged together and I just realized my passion for health care,” she said, adding that medicine was never something she had considered before this as she was always more interested in the humanities-related subjects, not science.
Next year, Bridgwater will be attending the University of Washington and plans to study biology and physiology with a pre-medicine focus. At this point, she said she is not sure of a specific career path as there are so many necessary careers in the field.
Bridgwater said she is excited about what’s to come but she is also sad to be leaving Bear Creek, saying she will miss the community.
“This family that I’m leaving here is a lot like leaving my actual family,” she said.
PUSHING THROUGH PAIN AND UNEXPECTED SKILLS
Leszynski has rarely met a school club or activity he didn’t want to try.
While at Bear Creek, he said he was able to “dip (his) toes in a lot of different waters.” While the 18-year-old Redmond Ridge resident didn’t stick with everything, there were a few activities he ended up diving in to with both feet.
Athletics played a large role in Leszynski’s high school career. He spent four years on the boys varsity soccer team.
“State champs this year!” he cheers as he begins talking about the team. “Whoo!”
Looking back on all his years on the team, Leszynski said this last year stands out in particular — and not just because they won the state title. He said everyone on the team wanted to succeed. Leszynski was no exception. He played in the district finals with a separated AC joint and torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, which carried on to state. But this didn’t stop him as it was his final year at Bear Creek.
“I have to play in this game,” he said about his thoughts at the time.
Leszynski said doctors thought the injury would heal after a few months without surgery, but when track season came along, it was clear his shoulder had not healed. So just as he did during the soccer postseason, Leszynski, a pole vaulter, powered through — with the help of a lot of ibuprofen. He survived and just a few weeks after state (where he placed sixth) on June 6, he had surgery on his shoulder.
In addition to competing on the athletic field, Leszynski spent his high school years competing on the academic field as a member of Bear Creek’s forensics — or debate — team.
Leszynski joined the team halfway through his freshman year, saying as a jock, he wanted to try something that could help him off the field.
And help, it did.
Leszynski said debating helped him with his public speaking skills, but it also helped his writing skills as he had to learn how to convey his opinion “on the fly.” Being able to get straight to the heart of issues has cut his writing time in half, he said.
Leszynski also got up to speed on many current events and issues. He said he got confident enough in his knowledge on various subjects that he was able to have conversations with his parents’ friends and other adults.
Next year, Leszynski will attend California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He said he plans to study business but is not sure what his focus will be yet.
Like Bridgwater, Leszynski said when he leaves Bear Creek he will miss the community. As a “legacy” senior, he has been at the school since kindergarten. And during those 13 years, he said he has really gotten to know the people at the school, which he will not immediately have at Cal Poly.
“I have been through everything with them,” Leszynski said about his classmates.