Washington State Supreme Court Justice Debra Stephens came home last week to visit her high school alma mater.
As students from across the district gathered in the gymnasium of West Valley High School, dignitaries gathered in the hall. The high school band played “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and Gov. Chris Gregoire and her security detail swept into the room.
School board president Jim Williams addressed the students about their special guests. He talked a little about the governor and told the crowd that the other guest, Stephens, is his daughter and a graduate of West Valley High School.
Gregoire explained to the crowd that they were there to honor Stephens and nominate her for the West Valley Hall of Fame.
The governor explained that she needed to nominate a justice to the state’s highest court, and she wanted someone who treated people fairly and with respect.
“She represented all of that and more,” the governor said.
Stephens graduated from West Valley in 1983. Gregoire said she had a talent for debate and was the student body president. She received a scholarship to attend Gonzaga University and graduated with honors. After becoming an attorney, she argued more than 100 times at the Washington State Supreme Court.
Gregoire also stressed to the students the importance of getting an education. She talked about growing up in Auburn, Wash., with a single mother. She said her mother had three priorities for her children, “education, education, education.” Her mother also had a theory about education.
“People can take away a lot of things from you, but they can’t take that away,” she said. “My mother was right.” Gregoire said she went on to become the first person in her family to graduate from college.
She then took some time to encourage the students in their own studies.
“You are a great school with the right heart and the right vision,” she said. “Stick with school and make those dreams come true.”
Stephens received a standing ovation from the crowd.
She was impressed by the new school building, but some of her memories were still there at the school. The football field was the same and even some of her teachers were still at the school.
“You have such an opportunity to go out and be anything you want to be,” she told them.
When Stephens was finished, the students had the opportunity to ask Gregoire some questions. The students asked her a range of questions from her feelings about stem-cell research to her thoughts on national health care to whether it was hard to be the governor.
The governor left shortly after the ceremony, but Stephens met with several West Valley students after the ceremony for questions in the auditorium and spoke to one of the school’s civics classes.