When Cox Arena hosted several high school graduation ceremonies on Friday, June 14, members of the graduating classes had their pictures flashed on the central marquee over the arena floor. Lincoln High School had a choir with a pianist and drummer, choosing a gospel-inflected version of Mendelssohn's "War March of the Priests" as its processional. Crawford High School welcomed its participants in 11 languages and had no band at all, only a pianist that accompanied a young woman who rendered "The Star Spangled Banner." Our Lady of Peace Academy had a guest speaker who spoke at length about her Peace Corps experience.
One of the more surprising valedictorian speeches came from Scripps Ranch High School's Saviz Sepah, 18. Sepah, who will be attending Harvard University this fall, initially seemed to be addressing the less academic of his peers.
"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits and rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in square holes. The ones who do things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human race forward.
"It's funny to think that great men like Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., Henry David Thoreau, and Mahatma Ghandi were once considered crazy, but it's true. Time and time again they were called foolish for pursuing their dreams. And time and time again, they pushed the envelope and defied all odds to turn their dreams into reality. They had the audacity to stand up in a world of disbelievers and risk everything, all in the search for truth."
Michael Griffin, 18, was the valedictorian for El Cajon Valley High School. Planning to major in psychology at SDSU this fall, his speech reflected a sensitivity to human emotion:
"High school has been a very trying time for most of us. We came in as scared freshmen and are now exiting as those same people we used to look at and think, 'Wow! They are so old! Some even have facial hair!'
"Hopefully, we can put to good use what we have learned here so that this time was not a waste.... We can no longer look to lock-out as an escape from class or from those annoying teachers that sometimes we're plagued with. The real world now awaits us, and the decisions that we make in the next few years at college or in the workplace will set the course of our lives."
At El Capitan High School, Rachel Billstrom, 18, plans to major in neuroscience at UCLA.
"From the time we were five years old, when we began our education, our dispositions have ranged from being angered because someone stole our crayons to feeling bliss at obtaining our driver's licenses. Along the way, we have been forced to make decisions about our classes, our friends, and our values. Now we have mixed emotions regarding the outcome of our decisions. We are eager to meet new people who could become lifelong friends but worried about the distance being made between old ones. We are thrilled that we will be independent of our parents but sad that we will miss those weird family habits we've witnessed throughout the years. But despite all our other sentiments, we ultimately feel relieved that we have come this far and succeeded in the beginning phases of our lives."
Dana Ung, 18, of Crawford High School, had a title for his speech, "Time Doesn't Wait." Ung plans to study mechanical engineering at Stanford.
"The past four years seemed like the past four months. The past four months seemed like the past four days, and the past four days seem like the past four seconds. Four years ago, I stood in front of many of you as we shared with each other a small but important part of our lives at our eighth-grade graduation. Time passes by so quickly. I remember it like yesterday. We were all crammed into the auditorium, and I walked into the middle of the stage to say those same words. I stared out at faces, just as I stare now. I was nervous, just as I am now, and no matter how hard I try to make the nervousness go away, it won't, because deep down inside, I know graduation happens only once. Never in my life will I have another moment like this. Never in my life will I be surrounded by such amazing peers, friends, and teachers. Never in my life will I have these four years of high school again. Some of you say thank goodness. All I have to say is thank you."
At Our Lady of Peace Academy, three valedictorians co-delivered a speech in which each respectively spoke on the three focal components of a valedictory address: The past, the present, and the future. Kristine Jackson began by quoting the famous scene from The Dead Poets Society, where Keating has his students gaze at photos of deceased alumni in a trophy case, ending with the admonition to make their lives extraordinary. After quoting from the film, she explained:
"John Keating, the beloved schoolteacher of Dead Poets Society, had the right idea when he stated these words to his English class. With this in mind, 171 girls entered the gates of Our Lady of Peace. Although these past four years have flown by so quickly, we have taken advantage of every opportunity given to us. It does not seem so long ago that we were just freshmen, taking a risk the moment we stepped on campus for freshman orientation."
Kathleen Pangan then spoke about the present.
"We graduated once, going from big eighth graders who ruled the school to lost little freshmen. Now, we are going from veteran seniors, who know everything about high school, to becoming freshmen once more in a different setting. Most of us have had mixed feelings about this day. There is so much hope for the future, excitement, new beginnings, but also, there is difficulty in letting go. Life is a mixture of experiences, inclusive of both joy and pain. In order to fully experience life, we cannot be numb to either, lest we take something for granted.
"This year began with great difficulty -- for our country, for our communities, and for our families. Yet this past year alone, the bonds we have forged have grown stronger. We realize that now is the time to build together, recover together, and focus on what we do share. The moments we share now may be the final moments we have with each other."
Kirsten Jackson finished by discussing the future:
"The Academy of Our Lady of Peace, our families, our friends, and our classmates have helped us to become a group of women ready to embark upon a sea of adventure. The unexplored territory we can claim! The new lands we will see! The unfamiliar people we will meet! The songs we will sing! The music that will ring! The occupations we will undertake! The families we will make! The things we know! 'Oh the places we'll go!' No matter what lies ahead of us today, we're all at a turning point."
Jackson then encouraged her classmates to stretch themselves and ended with another quote from Dead Poets Society:
"There are so many choices, so many opportunities, so many doors open to us. We should not close the ones that we can walk through. We have the ability to choose one, choose all, or even carve our own. Nothing is impossible. Plato once said, 'Men and women can become what they all really long to be, but most fall short because they fear that what they truly long for is illusory.' Know that not everything is going to be as easy as it seems and that the doors we open may not always reveal what we expect. Plans change, people change, obstacles arise. Despite this, we must not neglect our dreams. We have all that we need to make them happen. ''Tis only in our dreams that [we] truly be free; 'Twas always thus, and always thus will be.' "
A similar sentiment was expressed by Kamilah Hicks, 18, of Lincoln High School. Hicks, who plans to study molecular biology at Berkeley, quoted from another popular poem for commencements, "The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost. After reading an excerpt of the poem, Hicks explained:
"We are embarking upon the journey of a lifetime full of many winding and twisting roads. Each one of us will travel a unique path. Are you prepared for the future? Are you ready to see what the world has in store for you? I know I am, I am also confident that you are too. My experiences at Lincoln High School have had a lasting impression on me and have helped to make me the person I am today. Memorable events and people have shaped my personality and beliefs. Lincoln has served as a strong support system for all of us. The principal, teachers, and staff alike all showed great interest in our success. They have provided us with a nurturing environment and have allowed most of us to realize our potential. I would like to thank them for preparing us for the future and disproving my preconceptions about Lincoln. I would like to give all honor and glory to God, my Creator, for giving me all that I have and making me the person that I am. I would like to thank my family and church family for all of their support."
After expressing her gratitude to specific friends and family members, Hicks offered her class some advice by quoting two figures of civil rights history:
"If I could give you any advice, fellow members of the class of 2002, it would be to take challenges. Don't be afraid of what others say you can't do or what seems impossible. As made clear by Frederick Douglass, 'It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.' "
In another of the shorter addresses, Leslie Chaney of West Hills High School imparted a sense of humility that was almost defiant:
"Besides the fact that we're all wearing silly hats, this is the funny part of high school graduations. A student like me stands up here to give a speech to all of you to impart some sort of wisdom. Well, what the heck do I know about life? I have the same amount of experience as all of you. But I guess that sums up high school pretty well. We came to West Hills apprehensive of the school, the teachers, and our peers, groping for a little reassurance because we were not only unsure of ourselves as students, but also as individuals. We came to learn, make friends, and...and what else? Well, don't look at me, I don't know what you've been doing for the past four years. But I do know what we should do now that we're adults. Move on."
Chaney then looked back and nearly contradicted herself by telling her classmates not to look backward, continuing her theme of moving on:
"We have thought that someone else has had control over us. Well, it doesn't matter anymore. High school is over. Move on. No one can control you unless you let them. So, with this in mind, take advantage of the opportunities presented to you. Climb that corporate ladder. Start your own business. Stay in college for five or six years. Do what is best and right for you. Our futures are undetermined. We will go our separate ways to do what we think is right for us. But whatever we do, it is important to remember that our futures are what we make of them. Some of us have not made the most of the past four years. Well, it's too late to change that. Move on. But don't disregard the experiences that have shaped you during high school. All that you have learned is valuable, whether it was academic or personal. We all have clean slates. Congratulations, class of 2002, we can now live our lives as we see fit. Welcome to adulthood."