There were sparkly gold crowns, T-shirts embellished with hand-painted stars and two kinds of cake.
After all, kindergarten graduation happens only once, and Lydia Hawk Elementary School teacher Marilyn Rottle likes to make it a big deal for families.
I think its awesome, said parent Stefanie Brushwood, 33, of Lacey. Ive never done this with any of my other kids.
The June 11 event was a chance for Rottle, 68, to say goodbye too. Shes worked 44 years in education 41 of those years at Lydia Hawk in the North Thurston School District.
Shes an amazing teacher, said parent Jody Flynn, 34, of Lacey. Its all about the kids. She makes them feel special and important like theyre a star. I told her, Im so glad my youngest got you while youre working.
Rottle grew up in Hoquiam and earned a bachelors degree in history from San Jose State University and a bachelors degree in communication from the University of Washington.
While teaching full-time, she attended the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma and earned a law degree during the mid-1980s.
Now that shes retired from education, she plans to put that law degree to use. Rottle said she wants to work as a guardian ad litem and help people with the adoption process.
I think its time that I move on so I have a few years in my new career, she said.
Rottle worked as Lydia Hawks librarian from 1972 to 2004.
During a series of budget cuts, the schools librarian position was eliminated, and she was reassigned to teach kindergarten.
Some veteran teachers might have balked at a move: Thats two classes a year, averaging 48 kids.
But Rottle took the challenge and ran with it.
They (the districts administrators) couldnt have given me a better gift, she said. I just love kindergarten. I think its the best job in the world.
North Thurston Education Association president Conni Van Hoose said Rottle made a positive difference at Lydia Hawk.
Many students and parents will miss her, Van Hoose said. Marilyns background as a teacher-librarian has aided her in instilling the love for books and reading to kindergarten students. Im sure her last day in the classroom will be very emotional, leaving a career that has spanned four decades.
Rottle said she enjoyed working as a librarian because she knew all of the kids in the school. But as a kindergarten teacher, she was able to get to know her students and their families better. She organized Muffins with Moms, Donuts with Dads and evening math and reading events for her students and their families.
Shes really good, said Jennifer Underwood, 28, of Olympia. She sends out weekly reports, and she makes contact with us whenever there is an issue. When they come through the door, she greets them and says everybodys name. It feels really personable, and I liked that.
Shes fun, said Yvonne Ramos, 31, of Lacey, whose daughters Tillie, 8, and Lana, 6, both had Rottle. She really loves her career, and she loves the kids.
I didnt expect to put a lot of trust into the public school system, and shes someone weve been able to trust with our one and only, said Kari Bonagofski, 37, of Olympia.
Rottle said shes seen a lot of change in education during her tenure.
Lydia Hawk, which opened about 13 years before she began working there, has grown, changed and had an influx of military families.
Kids havent changed; theyre the same, Rottle said. What Ive noticed is the curriculum has changed. Funding has changed.
The graduation ceremony was filled with songs, a brief speech by Rottle and a reading of a congratulatory message sent by NFL legend John Elway, her cousin. The mention of Elway drew gasps and buzz from the crowd.
I always root for the Seahawks, Rottle told the audience. But not when they play the Broncos.
Several of Rottles former students and their families attended the event, including 13-year-old Jamie Mendelson a seventh-grader at Chinook Middle School in Lacey.
She was always supportive of everything, Mendelson recalled of Rottle. Even when we did something wrong, she was always putting a smile on our faces.
A big part of my kids success is owed to Mrs. Rottle, said parent Jeremy Taylor-Sparks, who was the schools PTA president for four years. Shes one of the big reasons Ive done what Ive done.
During the graduation, Rottle handed each child a memory book that she created with samples of their artwork and photographs of school field trips. As she has in years past, she included a personal letter to each child that she hopes theyll open on their 18th birthday.
Several of the kids said they were sad that Rottle is retiring and wont be at their school anymore.
Shes gonna go help people, said 6-year-old Aubrey Hutchens. Shes really cool. Guess what I did when she told me (she was retiring)? I had to go and get a tissue.
Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433