For some in Justin-Siena High School’s 2019 class, their Thursday night graduation ceremony was bittersweet.
The celebration signaled accomplishment and the beginning of a new chapter, but meant saying goodbye to the Justin-Siena campus community that they said they had grown to cherish.
While Mikaela Zeiter, who plans to study biology at Northeastern University, said she was excited to get her diploma and watch her friends take special opportunities, friend Caroline Melancon, who will major in international studies at Boston College, said that seeing her classmates don their navy blue graduation gowns made her feel a little bit sad.
“This is the first time we’re feeling sentimental about it,” she said.
But as the graduates of Justin-Siena’s 50th commencement gathered ahead of the ceremony, they were all smiles.
Graduates piled out of cars and headed to find friends. Young women convened in the bathroom, sharing bobby pins and hair ties. Families lugged flower bouquets and signs, and snapped photos of lei-draped graduates.
Soon, hundreds of parents, friends and loved ones took their seats on the campus lawn. As graduates began to file down an aisle past the crowd, families cheered and parents rushed to find a good angle to photograph their graduate.
Student body co-presidents Sumaia Khoury and Austin Parlett opened the ceremony with kind words for their classmates and families.
The 2019 class “embodied what it means to be all heart,” Parlett said. Khoury spoke of a gratitude for the “deep relationships that took us from classmates to family.”
“This moment is for us,” Parlett said.
Next up on the program was an invocation by Conrad Say, who will be heading to Johns Hopkins University.
“Bless all our future endeavors – planned or unplanned,” he said.
Patrizia Tandinco asked audience members to close their eyes, take a deep breath and take a moment “to look around and soak in the beauty of our campus.”
She recalled doing the same while standing atop the bleachers of an empty Dodd Stadium at golden hour.
“Despite our different backgrounds, we have achieved greatness together,” Tandinco said.
Justin-Siena’s Class of 2019 did not graduate without enduring hardship, she said. Some classmates dealt with depression, sexism or racism, while others were affected by the 2017 wildfires.
“All of these things happened for a reason,” Tandinco said. “He has a plan for each and every one of us.”
Tandinco challenged her classmates to look around at the people who have changed their lives and thank someone before the end of the night.
Valedictorian Sumaia Khoury said their diplomas were an honor, a challenge and a key to opening the door of possibility. Graduation was an exciting, but uncertain time.
She recalled summer reading lists, class trips and a beloved science teacher.
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“In the end, the pursuit of knowledge is best a shared experience,” Khoury said.
She extolled her classmates’ commitment to community service and spoke of a bond forged through difficult shared experiences, such as the 2017 wildfires.
“Our school family grew closer,” Khoury said.
The senior choir of Justin-Siena took the stage to sing “Have it All” by Jason Mraz and Justin-Siena High President David Holquin followed.
He asked graduates to share their light – the light of God – to the benefit of others, even though there will come moments of failure in life. It’s almost always better to try than to ask, “What if?,” he said, adding that there are few things in life worth doing that don’t come with a chance of failure or risk.
“Always, always bet on yourself,” he said.
And as graduates grow and change, they shouldn’t be surprised if they end up mirroring their parents’ personalities, Holquin said.
“We love you,” he said in closing. “We are here for you and we will be missing.”
Several students were recognized for their academic achievements, including Jordan Bowman-Davis, Lucy Harrington, Etienne Robin, Jan Escosio, Brett Carey, Feras Halabi and Caroline Melancon.
Then came the moments that graduates were waiting for: getting their diplomas and moving their graduation cap tassels.
With high school graduation behind them, students looked to the next stage of their lives.
Thomas Lopez, who will major in business at University of the Pacific, looked forward to growing, having freedom and getting new opportunities. One day, he wants to be his own boss.
“I’m feeling amazing,” he said. “Excited to move on.”
Mia Celestian, who will major in pre-biology at University of California Santa Barbara, credited her Justin-Siena science teachers with inspiring her to go into the medical field. She looked forward to devoting her studies to a single subject that she’s interested in.
“It kind of hits me in waves,” Celestian said. “I’m kind of nervous and excited to finish high school.”
Patrick Dold, who will major in biology at San Francisco State University, said he looked forward to “the start of real life,” meeting new people, having new life experiences in a more urban setting and taking on new responsibilities – namely, waking up on time and keeping his grades up. He hopes one day to become a doctor and work in a field that involves the brain.
Kaylee Rupprecht, who will major in political science at Chapman University, said she was so happy that she transferred to Justin-Siena in her junior year of high school. A self-described family girl, Rupprecht said she was feeling a little scared to leave home.
High school graduation is something that she’s been working toward her whole life, she said, and her dreams of becoming a lawyer are even closer to becoming a reality.
“I’m so excited, it’s happening so fast,” she said. “I’m trying to take this in.”