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American Canyon High School 2022 graduates celebrate triumph after years of adversity

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After persevering through several challenging years, the American Canyon High School class of 2022 gathered triumphantly upon the turf of the school’s Wolf Den football stadium Tuesday evening, surrounded on two sides by a packed, ecstatic audience of family and friends.  

Principal Crystal Lopez set the tone for the ceremony in an introductory speech that urged the school’s 405 soon-to-be-graduates to take pride in their accomplishments and to carry empathy and a sense of responsibility with them into the future.

“The past four years have taught us how interconnected we all are, how our actions effect the life and wellbeing of our friends, our family, our neighbors and our community,” Lopez said. “Be proud of everything you have accomplished amidst such adversity.”

Student speakers — members of the student government as well as the two students who earned top grade point averages — reflected on their time at the school.

Andreas Aynalem, the associated student body director of activities, asked his classmates to take in their surroundings and recognize this is the last time the class will gather. Mariegrace Unajan, treasurer of the student government group, said the school is “like no other” because the students “never fail to uplift, celebrate and truly love and care for each other.” And student body president Emily Bit reflected on a series of memories she’d made with her classmates.

Student body secretary Sophia Rapacon said she’d felt truly disconnected from the school when she stepped back on campus in the fall of 2021, given that they’d all had to leave the campus in March 2020 because of COVID-19.

But, Rapacon said, the class of 2022 was the only remaining class to have experienced a full year physically on the campus. She and her classmates were obligated, Rapacon said, to rebuild the school’s traditions, community and school spirit from the ground up.

“As seniors, we used our memories of what used to be to reimagine what our school could be,” Rapacon said. “It was a difficult task to take on and yet we chose to embrace it, and continue blossoming into a stronger and more united community.”

Gurnek Singh Sidhu, salutatorian of the class — the first recognized by ACHS — gave a speech urging his classmates to continue chasing their dreams. His classmates have learned a bunch and grown as people while at the school, he said, and made memories that will last a lifetime. Now, they need to continue pushing to achieve their goals.

“Never let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do,” Sidhu said. “Don’t let the naysayers determine and put limits on your success. Find your own path in life and strive for greatness.”

Beza Mesfin, valedictorian of the class — as well as vice president of the student body — gave a speech reflecting on the struggles and triumphs of the past few years. (Mesfin was the first sole valedictorian recognized by ACHS, according to Lopez, because in past years the honor has been based upon non-weighted grade point average, and therefore was shared between multiple people.)

Mesfin said education is a blessing sometimes taken for granted, and serves as the uniting force between all the graduates. Furthermore, she said, the struggle the students faced during the coronavirus pandemic is something nobody can take away from them.  

The past few years are unforgettable, she said, because they’re the years the students learned about themselves and who they want to become.

“My own family who immigrated here from Ethiopia in the late 1980s have encountered barriers I will never know,” Mesfin said. “By cultivating a new life from scratch, learning a new language and culture, my parents have single-handedly guided me to the doors of success. And I am eternally grateful. Hardship is something we never ask for but that we own. We bear our scars with pride because we know that the person we are today would not be here without them.”

Economics teacher Scott Marsden, who was selected by the graduating class to represent school staff, gave a speech playing upon the economic term “human capital” — essentially the attributes people carry that are useful in the capital production process — and what the students had taught him in the past year. He referred to the gathered students as “incredible hunks of human capital,” and defined the term as “the skills, ability, knowledge and experiences that equip a person for success in the labor force and in life.”

Marsden said the class would need to continually update and refresh their human capital to keep up with changes in the labor market.

“It’s time to get real, class of 2022. Supply and demand rule the labor market,” Marsden said. “And supply and demand are always changing.”

But, Marsden, added, “human capital” is about more than just money and the labor market. To learn how to bake chocolate chip cookies or become a better friend requires human capital as well, he said.

Marsden said he personally taught 245 seniors — “incredible hunks of human capital” — through the past year, and they’ve taught him more than he could teach them. For example, students taught him about the importance of empathy.

“I see it in the active minds and money management clubs, when you help students with their mental health or their personal finances,” Marsden said. “I see it on the ballfield, in the gym, or in the pool when you encourage a teammate who is struggling. Finally, I see it in the theater when you sing and act and make music together.”

Marsden also praised the class’s positivity despite the difficulties they’ve faced.  

“Even something as small as a fist bump, a smile, or a shouted greeting in the hallway gave me that push to get through another class period, another day of teaching,” Marsden said. “Class of 2022, keep radiating that positivity, because your professors and employers are eager to teach and work with people who are positive.”

You can reach Edward Booth at 707-256-2213.

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