For the seniors gathered in the Southeast High School cafeteria on Monday morning, it was a day of lasts.
Last senior breakfast. Last time together at the school. Last yellow carnation, last selfies with classmates, last yearbook signatures, last stroll past lockers.
And the last class ever to finish high school at the Southeast High building at Lincoln and Edgemoor.
This fall, Wichita will open a new, $68 million Southeast High School at Pawnee and 127th Street East, the first new 6A high school built in the district since 1978.
“My parents went here, so it’s kind of cool for me to be one of the last ones to graduate from here,” said Rachel Jenkins, a member of Southeast’s class of 2016.
“It’s happy, and it’s bittersweet,” said her friend Natoria McCoy. “It really means a lot, and we’re just trying to make memories right now.”
Senior breakfast is a tradition at Southeast. Girls wore white dresses and boys wore dress pants with white shirts and ties. They filed into the cafeteria, where they were served eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy, and fresh fruit prepared by the school’s culinary arts classes.
Hanging between the gold columns were baby pictures of each graduating senior. Black and yellow decorations lined tables and walls.
Students signed yearbooks and looked through a senior edition of The Stampede, the school newspaper. Its cover displayed photos of pep assemblies and the headline “We are buffalo all.”
“We’re not the freshmen who were so anxious about figuring out our school Wi-Fi password,” said Tina Nguyen, student body president. “We are seniors who are counting the last days until we graduate.”
Southeast principal Lori Doyle said this week’s senior celebrations and last-week-of-school festivities are more poignant than most, as students and staff members prepare to leave the building for good.
Teachers already have been packing and labeling boxes. Crews will start the move over the summer, Doyle said.
The building at Lincoln and Edgemoor will become the district’s new administrative headquarters.
“For this class, they’re always going to have the recognition of being the last class to graduate from 903 South Edgemoor,” she said.
“They’ll tell you it’s an honor and it’s very surreal and humbling, and they like that distinction,” she said. “And a little bittersweet, that the building is moving, but they’re also excited that their friends are going to have a new facility to use.”
District leaders recently approved a proposal to establish the Southeast College and Career Preparatory Magnet High School at the new building – a neighborhood magnet that will focus on preparing students for college and the workforce.
Plans call for four “schools” within Southeast, each focused on a different career category: a school of performance art; a school of entrepreneurship and communication; a school of civic leadership; and a school of science, technology, engineering and math.
This year’s graduates spent Monday sharing memories and reflecting on traditions, such as searching for M Hall, touching the giant buffalo head outside the front office or chanting the Buffalo Call during games and pep assemblies.
I’m a Buffalo,
You’re a Buffalo,
We are Buffalo, all.
And when we get together, we do the Buffalo Call.
“It still doesn’t feel real. This is a moment that I’m, like, having to take in,” said Hadleigh Buck.
“When you’re an underclassman and you see the seniors have their senior breakfast, it seems so far off,” she said.
Buck said she’ll remember Southeast’s family atmosphere and camaraderie, and she hopes it continues at the school’s new location.
“It’s just such a community, and even though we have our differences, we love each other through everything,” she said.
Members of the Southeast Madrigals sang the Beatles’ “In My Life” – “Though I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before” – and Nguyen, the student body president, urged classmates to cherish their time together.
Southeast’s commencement is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Wichita State University’s Koch Arena.
“Tomorrow will be the day where we get handed a paper that says, ‘Wow, you made it through 13 years of education.’ Now what?” Nguyen said.
“We transitioned from those kids who were always lost in the hallways to those who are taking the next step to our future.”