Mt. Rainier students walk towards future
Long after sports practices ended, Mt. Rainier High School's track was filled with people on the move.
Beginning the afternoon of June 11 and continuing round the clock until the next morning, community members walked as part of the Relay for Life event to benefit the American Cancer Society.
Putting one foot in front of the other, they walked with the hope of moving towards a cure.
Students frequently participate in the annual event, but this year a group of Mt. Rainier seniors formally mobilized and organized a dedicated fundraising effort. A group of seven founded the "I.B. Killin' Cancer" team in January and coordinated four fundraisers which raised over $800.
"That $800 is a pretty big number and it feels good to know I was a part of that," says Merima Hadzimuratovic, an 18-year-old senior. Hadzimuratovic contributed by co-hosting a community bake-off at Geno's Coffee Shop and Bakery in Burien.
The students are all enrolled in the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) program, an advanced curriculum founded in Switzerland. I.B. encourages students to become global thinkers and the graduation requirements include a Creative Action Service (CAS) project that encourages community service.
"We wanted to be involved in something that has global importance," says Hadzimuratovic.
A number of the students have been personally impacted by cancer because of friends or family who received diagnoses.
"My friend (a Foster High School student) was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and it was really shocking," says Hadzimuratovic. "It was eye opening that this really does happen to people my age."
The luminaria ceremony is an essential part of the Relay for Life event. As dusk fell, candles were lit and placed around the Mt. Rainier track in honor of those touched by cancer and in memory of those who died.
"The candles circled almost all the way around the track and some had "Greatest Dad" or "My Daughter" written on them," says 18-year-old Sydney Ha. Ha walked throughout the night covering 12-14 miles before finally leaving at 7 a.m. the next morning.
"There was an atmosphere of hope and friendship. It made me feel like I could keep going," says Ha.
Chris Wilder, entering his fifth year as Mt. Rainier's I.B. coordinator, frequently observes a shift in his students' attitudes. What starts as a requirement becomes a way of life.
"They become more reflective and a new energy takes hold," he says.
For the "I.B. Killin' Cancer" team, the fundraising became secondary to educating and connecting with the community. Hadzimuratovic was overwhelmed when the bake-off fundraiser overflowed with supporters.
"It was great to see people supporting us whom we didn't even know," says Hadzimuratovic. An elderly woman approached and hugged and thanked them for their work.
"That moment of getting a hug from a random stranger, it made it all worthwhile," says Hadzimuratovic.
Wilder views his students' dedication as an inspiration for the wider community.
"If this is what we ask our kids to do, what should we be asking of ourselves as adults? You ask the question of, 'What can I do? How can I step up to the plate, too?'" he says.
With their CAS projects completed and graduation behind them, they plan to continue applying the lessons they learned.
"I definitely want to continue participating in Relay for Life in the years to come," says 17-year-old Katie Buttitta, who will attend Seattle University next year.
"A lot of times, kids are underestimated. Being the next generation, I want people to hear every voice. No matter what your age, you can make a difference in some way," Buttitta says.