As seniors graduated from Mountain View and Los Altos high schools last week, the occasion had many of the hallmarks of a traditional commencement ceremony, from students giving speeches to graduates lining up to receive their diplomas.
In other ways, though, the graduations reflected the unprecedented year the seniors have experienced, with ceremonies held off-campus to give more room for students and families to social distance.
The celebrations were held June 4 at PayPal Park, the soccer stadium where the San Jose Earthquakes play. Students and families were spread out throughout the stands.
“As we sit beside each other today, it’s hard not to be reminded that we haven’t been all together for over a year,” said Jessica Dooley, student body president and one of the masters of ceremonies at Los Altos High’s graduation. “We have overcome far more than many graduating classes before us, so as we sit here together, minutes away from receiving a diploma that signifies all our hard work, we hope that you truly credit yourself for all that you have accomplished over the past four years.”
Graduation speeches from students and administrators alike reflected on the unique and extraordinary experience of the Class of 2021.
Mountain View High Principal Michael Jimenez called distance learning “no easy feat” and said this year’s graduating class persevered in the face of the pandemic.
“Graduates, you have proven your resiliency, strength and determination,” Jimenez said. “What you have endured is confirmation of your ability to persist and succeed.”
For much of the school year, local high school campuses were closed, with students taking their classes online. It was only in April that in-person lessons resumed. And even then, roughly half of students chose to remain remote.
In a typical year, graduation ceremonies are held on the fields at the high schools. This year, though, the district decided to move to PayPal Park, which had enough space for each school to need only one ceremony, with spectators in attendance.
“Although we are not gathered at 201 Almond Avenue on Tom Burt Field, we are here together, and that is something to truly celebrate,” Los Altos High Principal Wynne Satterwhite said.
Although a departure from pre-pandemic tradition, this year’s ceremonies were more expansive than last year’s, when the schools held drive-in graduation video viewing ceremonies in the Earthquakes’ tailgate parking lot.
Los Altos High student Amanda Le spoke to the assembled crowd about how the Class of 2021 has defied expectations and the pandemic has taught students lessons that couldn’t be learned in the classroom.
“We experienced high school in an unconventional way and tackled these challenges head-on. We battled wildfires, unjust immigration policies, gun violence, climate change and systemic racism,” Le said. “And through it all, we showed the world that the Class of 2021 does not sit on the sidelines.”
Mountain View High senior class president Josh Lillie similarly said he was proud of how the class “showed up for each other, our school, our community and our world during these incredibly difficult, even desperate times.”
Enola Talbert reflected on the challenges and tragedies she and her classmates have endured, saying that through the trials, they grew stronger together.
“No matter what your plans are for after this, just know that you have people to back you in all of your future endeavors – you have us,” Talbert said. “You have a group of friendly, funny and compassionate people to lean on whenever you need to take a breather.”