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High school graduations normally mark a line from youth into adulthood. For some members of New Technology High’s Class of 2019, their day of diplomas and cap-tossing was the end of something more.

Theirs was a small graduating class compared to the hundreds of Napa seniors and their Vintage counterparts who would stride across the Memorial Stadium field the next day. But Wednesday evening was their time to take the stage: 93 purple-robed students who had built friendships, and shared experiences in and out of the classroom, for four years or even longer, only to be dispersed to colleges and jobs across the state or country.

“It’s sad to go our separate ways; we’ve been together so long and some of us have been together since sixth grade,” said Hibah Shafi, who will study business administration at the University of California, Davis this fall.

As their fellow graduates massed beneath Memorial Stadium’s west stands for a final round of chitchat, snapshots and laughs, Shafi turned to her left toward Makenzie Troedson to retell a junior-year story of a math class interrupted by a freak hailstorm, into which students had rushed outside for an impromptu dance. Even on this day of celebration, funny anecdotes and wistfulness could and did mingle.

“Oh my God, stop crying!” Shafi told her schoolmate, still laughing. “That was super fun!”

For Troedson, one of New Tech’s eight valedictorians, the finality of graduation had not quite sunk in until images of her friends’ final months together had flashed by her only hours before.

“At the senior breakfast this morning, we saw a slide show to remember senior year, and it was emotional,” she said half an hour before joining the procession into the stadium. “That was the key moment that I realized that’s what’s happening.”

In speeches before an audience of parents, siblings and friends that filled two-thirds of the west bleachers, a succession of students emphasized the sense of family feeling and shared purpose that marked their years growing up together at New Tech.

Even the dangers and disruption of the 2017 wildfires, which shut down Napa Valley schools for weeks and left many students “feeling uneasy or in a trance,” ultimately “forced us to lean on each other,” recalled co-valedictorian Aliza Schuler.

Within such a small student body, “we have fights, we have arguments, and everyone knows everything,” added Austin Larsen, another valedictorian. “But that’s what a family dynamic is, because in the end, we love each other.”

“I was never happy in school and I was looking for a place I could call home,” Tristan Brennan-Evans, who transferred into New Tech before junior year, told his classmates from the lectern. “You guys are the kindest, the funniest, the most welcoming people I know. I finally found a place where I could feel at home. Thank you, guys.”

As many in the Class of 2019 spent four years transforming from strangers to friends, so too did the principal who saw their growth up close – and who soon will leave New Tech along with his former students.

“For me, what really sets this class apart is that as they grew over their four years, they really peaked as 12th-graders,” said Riley Johnson, who is taking an education job in his native Indiana after four years at the helm of the Napa school. “Every year this group of students showed more and more growth. They exemplified the reason behind the high school; they exemplified what it means to be competent and confident young adults.”

“They were my first class as the principal as freshmen, and now I’m kind of graduating with them,” he said before the ceremony. “It’s one of those things that I’m blessed with. .... I’m blessed that I know the ins and outs of all 93 of these kids. It makes it very much personal today.”

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.