‘Senior Sunrise’ a show of unity for Class of 2020 at Portsmouth High

PHS student Brennan Seibert feeds dozens of classmates before first school bell rings

By Jim McGaw
Posted 9/3/19

PORTSMOUTH — Brennan Seibert did something Tuesday morning that many believed was not possible: He convinced more than 50 teenagers to haul themselves out of bed and get themselves to the …

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‘Senior Sunrise’ a show of unity for Class of 2020 at Portsmouth High

PHS student Brennan Seibert feeds dozens of classmates before first school bell rings

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Brennan Seibert did something Tuesday morning that many believed was not possible: He convinced more than 50 teenagers to haul themselves out of bed and get themselves to the high school at 5:30 a.m. to catch the sunrise together.

That’s nearly two hours before the bell rang for the first day of school, by the way.

But there they were, rubbing sleep from their eyes as they crossed the main athletic field in the dark to partake in coffee, juice and doughnuts before the official sunrise at 6:11 a.m. The event was part of Brennan’s senior project — a “Senior Sunrise” that was intended to symbolize the Class of 2020’s unity.

“I moved here last year from Japan, and my school actually did this,” said Brennan, who was then living on an U.S. Air Force base with his family. “It was just a tradition; everyone would bring their own breakfast in the morning and watch the sunrise together — just the senior class. And then at the end of the year, they’d watch the sun set as well — just sort of symbolizing the end of the year.”

In addition to the drinks and treats, Brennan also raffled off eight Dunkin’ Donuts gifts cards and two $25 Amazon gift cards. The Portsmouth Prevention Coalition (PPC) donated money to fund the breakfast. 

Kara Jelley, the PPC’s youth program coordinator, was Brennan’s mentor for the project.

“I took Brennan, along with nine other kids, to Youth to Youth this summer,” she said, referring to the annual conference at Bryant University in Smithfield that offers training in youth leadership/drug prevention programming. 

“Basically what he learned there was a lot of leadership skills, how to include people — it’s a really great conference,” Ms. Jelley said. “He had this vision for his senior project back in June. I told him, ‘You should come to our meeting and explain what you’re doing and how you want to use your skills,’ and the Coalition basically voted to support him and provided the food the drinks and gift cards.”

Early birds

Given teens’ sleeping habits and the event’s scheduled start time, it was unclear how many seniors would show up. 

“I made a poster and had it signed by the principal. I printed a bunch out and put them around the school. At the class elections, I also spoke to everyone,” Brennan said.

When students learned the event would start at 5:30 a.m. on the first day of school, how did they react?

“A lot of people were like, ‘Oof!’ They weren’t a fan of that. But then I mentioned we’d have a lot of free food and a chance to win prizes,” said Brennan, who was pleased to slightly exceed his goal of 50 attendees.

So was Ms. Jelley. “This is a great turnout; I wasn’t sure how many would come,” she said.

Unique experience

Fiona Dooley, a senior who brought her own chair and faced it due east, said she couldn’t miss the breakfast before the first bell rang at 7:15 a.m.

“I guess it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “We’re never going to get to do this again, and it’s a great bonding experience for the senior class. It’s such a unique experience; no other senior class before us had this.”

Brennan, who’s applying to military service academies and hopes to eventually study medicine, took to a megaphone to wish his classmates well before posing for a group photo.

“We’re all graduating together, we’re all entering the real freakin’ world together as a group. That’s the whole point of this,” he said. “Have a wonderful senior year, everyone. Say hi to all the new kids in the hallway who are lonely, because I was lonely as the new kid last year.

“Happy new year!”

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