Hundreds of Vintage High School graduates left Napa’s Memorial Stadium on Thursday night, prepared to take on the adult world.
Family members and loved ones arrived early to grab a seat close to the field. They held flowers and red, black and gold balloons while waiting for their soon-to-be-graduates, who lined up behind bleachers. Graduates snapped selfies, chatted with friends and applied last-minute touches of makeup.
“You guys ready?” one teacher asked as students headed toward the bleachers.
“No!” a young woman replied.
Some, like Jake Hall, a soon-to-be student of wine marketing and sales at Napa Valley College, were feeling the pre-graduation jitters. He said he would miss seeing his friends every day.
“This is a big milestone in my life,” Hall said. “You only graduate once.”
Others, such as José Alcantar, were anxious to cross the stage. The prospective digital media student was ready to head to Napa Valley College and put high school behind him.
Jorge Marcelo, who will study kinesiology at Napa Valley College, was feeling nostalgic as he peered over a sea of graduation robes.
“It’s a great experience right now, seeing everybody that I’ve gone through the years with,” he said.
Friends JoKayla Lowe, who plans to study nursing at Grand Canyon University, and Izzy Macdonell, who may study business or marketing at Napa Valley College, said they were excited to graduate. But the feeling was surreal, Lowe said.
Macdonell said she was “ready to be on to the next chapter.”
“It went by really fast,” Lowe replied.
Erin Dunn, who plans to major in history at Binghamton University, said she looked forward to “moving on to the next really fun thing.”
Kate Isley, who plans to study psychology at University of California, Davis, was still making making sense of it all.
“It didn’t really feel real until we walked in the stadium,” she said.
Max Hurtado was looking forward to attending auto school at Solano Community College, which he hoped would set the foundation for him to own his own shop in Napa someday.
“I’m just so happy that I graduated,” he said.
Kaleena Jezycki, who plans to study biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said she would miss Napa and its people, but looked forward to growing up and exploring the world.
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“We’re going to start something new,” she said. “We’re going to go on our own paths.”
Soon, the graduates spilled onto the field and took their seats.
Matthew Eustice, senior counselor, and Sarah O’Connor, principal, opened the ceremony. The bleachers rumbled as loved ones stomped their feet for the Class of 2019 and the Vintage High Chamber Choir opened with performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Home” by Drew Pearson and “Old Irish Blessing.”
Speaker Oscar Loyola spoke of his life as the son of two immigrant parents. Growing up as a translator for his family wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t easy when he lost his mom at a young age
“Fast forward another four years and here we are, minutes away from receiving our high school diploma,” he said.
“No matter what lies ahead, no matter how hard it gets, don’t give up, don’t you ever give up,” Loyola said. “We are the class of 2019, the world is ours … sí se puede.”
Andrea Co recalled moving to Napa as a young, shy girl. She was scared to start high school, too, but she and her classmates had finally crossed the finish line.
“Our high school diploma gives us that final push,” she said.
Katya Kampton lauded her classmates for all that they have already accomplished at a young age and said the future no longer needs to seem grim. Jack Dinsmore said the Class of 2019 had arrived at the first step of the rest of their lives.
“I don’t know about you, but I am terrified,” he said, encouraging his classmates to follow their hearts and their dreams.
Principal O’Connor gave the final remarks before students collected their diplomas. O’Connor, a gardener, compared the students to plants.
They started out as tiny seeds, she said, and grew, and began to distinguish themselves from others.
“Somewhere along the way … your roots have outgrown your high school containers,” she said.
She reminded students that as they are transplanted to the next step of their life journey, they take with them the soil from their original container. It’s OK to be nervous about starting over, O’Connor said.
“You have done this and you will continue to do this,” she said. “Keep growing.”
O’Connor encouraged them to explore, find support in unexpected places and grow toward the sun — the positive things on Earth.
The Class of 2019 can “produce the most amazing fruits for the world,” she said.
And with that — and a final plea that parents refrain from using noisemakers — Vintage High grads lined up onto the stage, ready to receive their diplomas and turn their leaves to the sky.