Tyler Weyer and his fellow seniors at Republic High School began considering possible commencement speakers last fall.
Confronting them was the reality that the most likely speaker would be a popular teacher or a standout community member. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But Weyer had a crazy thought. “I said, ‘Hey, let’s just get Sarah Palin,’ ” said Weyer, the 17-year-old senior class president at Republic High.
It was kind of a joke, at least at first. But soon Weyer had taken the lead on an aggressive social media campaign that … just got Sarah Palin. The Republican former vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor will be addressing Weyer and his 26 fellow graduates June 1.
It might be the hottest ticket – ever – at the RHS gym.
Weyer is a lifelong Republic resident who plans to attend Wenatchee Valley Community College next fall and transfer to Washington State University to study political science. He’s a longtime fan of Palin’s – referring to her, partly in jest, as his “idol” – for her political views and for her representation of small-town life and outdoor recreation.
“I really like how the governor is able to relate to the common, everyday American,” he said. “She loves to hunt, she loves to fish – and that’s what our class is like, too.”
RHS principal Shawn Anderson said Weyer has been an enthusiastic and outspoken fan of Palin’s for a few years. A young man with a strong interest in politics and government, “Tyler … and Sarah Palin kind of went hand in hand,” Anderson said.
When Weyer threw out the notion of inviting Palin last fall, he was encouraged by his teachers and Anderson. Why not give it a shot?
Weyer typed an invitation, Anderson had it put on school letterhead and signed it, and it went off to Palin’s parents. Weyer had tried to reach Palin through official sources in the past, with no success, and so he thought going through her parents might work better – and they were listed in the phone book. Soon thereafter, Weyer received an email response from “one of her people” that was noncommittal.
“To be honest, I really wasn’t surprised that the message got to Sarah,” Anderson said. “I really believed she would at least see the letter and maybe some of the emails.
“But I didn’t think our chances were so high.”
Months passed with no further word. In early April, still awaiting an answer and running out of time, Weyer decided to push things along.
“I got impatient, so I organized a class picture,” he said.
He got his classmates together in their class sweatshirts, and they made a banner: “We Want You! Governor Palin!” School librarian Kelly Scriver took the photo of them posing with the banner, and they posted it on Facebook.
And then – in what is becoming a familiar pattern in the age of social media – the sharing and the liking and the tweeting began. As word of the Class of ’13’s efforts spread, people began lobbying Palin directly, via Facebook and other ways. Weyer said that Palin has some relatives living in the Republic area, which might have helped bring their efforts some attention, and Palin herself was born not far away in Sandpoint, where her parents have a long history.
Whatever it was, something finally broke through. As Weyer put it, “the right word got to the right people.”
He received another email, wanting to know: “Can we just get the date and time again?”
“That was definitely more promising,” he said.
Then came another email from Palin’s people – this time to set up a phone call with him and school officials.
“People told me I looked pale as a sheet when I got that email,” Weyer said. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness. I’m getting pretty excited. Something’s going to happen here.’ ”
On April 18, Weyer and school officials had the phone call with Palin’s representative and learned that Palin would be coming to graduation.
“It was worth a million dollars to see the look on (Weyer’s) face,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s priority is to preserve the event as a commencement ceremony – something focused on the students and their families.
“This isn’t going to be a circus, and this isn’t going to be a political statement,” he said.
Weyer says that Palin, who is not being paid and is traveling on her own dime, has expressed similar wishes. “She doesn’t want a frenzy,” he said.
Still, certain frenzylike elements are bound to accompany the appearance of a figure like Palin. Each graduate gets 20 tickets to distribute for the 1 p.m. commencement ceremony on June 1, and then admission to the small gym will be first-come, first-served. There’s room for around 700 people; Anderson expects he’ll be turning people away.
Weyer said the event is the talk of the 1,000-resident town.
“Everyone’s asking for tickets,” he said. “Everyone’s very ecstatic.”