CHS graduation yields thousands of supporters

Between Claremont High School, San Antonio High School and the Claremont Adult School, some 675 young people gathered to receive their diplomas at the recent commencement, held on Thursday, June 16 at the Claremont High School football field.

There had been a bit of a kerfuffle in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, when students were informed that no guests could sit on the artificial turf field—which was installed last summer—in order to avoid wear and tear. After a general outcry from the Class of 2013, that decision was reversed. Each graduate was issued 5 on-the-field tickets to distribute to friends and family who wished to attend the ceremony, with additional guests able to find seats on bleachers on the north and south of the field.

The weather was hot enough that many people used umbrellas as parasols up until the first bars of “Pomp and Circumstance” began. So waiting for the slew of outgoing students to file towards their seat while the Elgar composition played on a loop took the patience of a loving relative. The grads’ families wouldn’t have missed their proud moment for the world, however.

It was not the first such moment Todd and Maggie Grosjean, who came ready to cheer on their son Eric Grosjean, their third son to graduate from Claremont High School. The moment still holds poignancy for them, however.

It’s always good to see them graduate. It’s a lot of work,” Mr. Grosjean said. 

Ms. Grosjean admitted to feeling a bit emotional. “It’s sad because it’s the last ceremony of childhood. I’d rather have them stay little,” she half-joked.

The parents of graduate Alex Alarcon, Renée and John, had a similar division of feelings, with Mr. Alarcon pronouncing the day “exciting” and Ms. Alarcon deeming it “sad.” Both of them, however, shared a ride in their son’s success. Alex, who played baseball at CHS for 2 years, is headed off to college at Azusa Pacific University.

Once the graduates were seated, they were flooded with inspiration in the form of musical performances by their peers, including a stunning rendition of Adele’s “Hometown Glory” delivered by Alaina Hudson and uplifting talks delivered by standout students and staffers.

For Kristen Strauss, president of the class of 2013, graduation offered a time for her to look back and reflect on the beginning of her school experience that, paired with the end, constitutes a full-circle experience.  Kristen recalled stepping onto the schoolyard as a new kindergartner, armed with her “Little Mermaid” lunchbox and feeling ready to conquer the world. Once she realized her mother had left her, however, she burst into tears.

“I couldn’t understand why someone who loved me so much could have walked away in my time of need,” she recalled.

After several other such transitions, such as the move from elementary school to junior high and from junior high to high school, Kristen said she learned that with change comes great opportunity.

“It’s only fitting. I started off my school career crying over someone I loved leaving me, and I ended up crying because I was leaving behind those I’ve come to love,” she said.

The follow-up speaker, associated student body president Madison Weigand, took the opportunity to remind students of the positive feelings present at graduation as well as the understandable misgivings. Madison said amid the teary moments that have pervaded the past week, there has also been a palpable and rising sense of excitement filling the members of the class of 2013.

“It’s okay to feel that earnest anticipation,” she said. “Just as the world is waiting to welcome us, we are ready to say hello.” 

Much of that excitement stems from the collected furor of hundreds of students heading to colleges across the country, to every branch of the armed forces and to an array of divergent futures.

As Aimee Orcasitas, the class representative for the San Antonio High School Class of 2013, moves onto her future she wants to make sure everyone knows what a positive and transformative experience her time at San Antonio High School (SAH) was. Before she came to SAH, Aimee said her perception of the local continuation high school was “tainted.” But once she arrived there, with a monumentally poor attendance record and some hard work to undertake in order to graduate, she found that its model of staff attentiveness—exemplified by principal Steven Boyd, “who welcomed me with open arms.” The student accountability was just what she needed.

“We are the kids who could not be accepted because we could not fit into the cookie-cutter mold. But we still have the power to make something of ourselves,” she said. “Congratulations class of 2013 for reaching this wondrous milestone!”

More words of wisdom were forthcoming as the CHS salutatorian Kimberly Chen and the CHS valedictorian Sondos Badran took to the stage. Kimberly asked her fellow students to “wake up dreaming” by forging their own paths, while Sondos cautioned peers against resting on their laurels.

“Today, our parents, teachers and friends think we are all hot stuff. Today, we are all successes. But what will tomorrow bring?” Sondos asked. “Our [supporters] and our opportunities can guide us, but in the end, what it boils down to is our own choice to make our own decisions.” 

In his acknowledgement of the class of 2016, CHS Principal Brett O’Connor acknowledged the students’ part in reversing the no-sitting-on-the-field decision. The fact it was so heatedly contested occurred because there are so many “stakeholders” to see a child from the start of school through graduation. 

“This community highly values the importance of high-quality education for our students,” he said. Happiness has no formula, but it’s the only thing worth pursuing.”

San Antonio High School principal said he likewise values the chance to help educate his students. “Thank you for letting me be your principal, your part-time dad and your friend.” 

—Sarah Torribio


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