At Palo Alto High School’s graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 1, student speakers urged their classmates to take their experiences over the past four years and use them to explore and embrace the challenges and opportunities that will lie ahead.
Student body president Ashley Meyer spoke to the assembled crowd about the range of emotions she and her over 500 fellow graduates were experiencing as they prepared to move into the next phase of their lives. Whether it was a sense of excitement, anxiety, eagerness or accomplishment, Meyer assured her classmates that all these feelings were normal but said that uncertainty isn’t something to fear.
“It’s okay to not have all the answers. It’s okay to feel lost,” she said. “But I challenge you today to embrace those feelings -- experience the uncertainty, because it is in this space that we discover our true selves.”
Palo Alto High celebrated the Class of 2023 on Thursday evening with a ceremony at Viking Stadium. The crowd packed into the bleachers and assembled chairs for an event that featured all the classic graduation hallmarks: the school band playing “Pomp and Circumstance,” families cheering as students’ names were called and the graduates tossing their mortarboards into the air in celebration as the ceremony concluded.
Arielle Blumenfeld took her senior speech to talk about the impossibility of reducing high school down to any singular idea or moment. Blumenfeld used the graduation caps that many students decorated to illustrate her point. While the image on a cap represented some aspect of a student’s identity, it couldn’t define their entire experience at Paly, Blumenfeld said. Likewise, she said that it wasn’t possible to pick one anecdote from her time at Paly to highlight in the speech.
“We each created a different path and legacy at this school. We are leaving behind more than one moment,” Blumenfeld said. “Another thing we need to realize is not only are we leaving behind a multitude of memories, but also, we have been leaving our legacies behind since our first days at Paly.”
Graduation speaker Mia Rose Tuifua thanked her parents for all the hard work that they put into providing for their family and for instilling in her the value of education. It was their sacrifices, Tuifua said, that allowed her to be the first person in her family to prepare to attend a four-year university.
“As a first-generation student, when I first entered the halls of Palo Alto High School, I was as clueless as they come. I didn’t know an AP from a GPA and I thought the SAT was an abbreviation for Saturday,” Tuifua said. “Although I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities this school has provided, the pressure to succeed here is real — not only as a first-gen but as a typical teenage student in the Silicon Valley.”
While at times it was easy to feel out of place on campus, Tuifua said that the school’s Spirit Week made her feel at home and reminded her that the school wasn’t just about academics but also about creating an uplifting community.
“We have the tools and the knowledge to succeed, but it is up to us to use them,” Tuifua said. “I encourage all of you to embrace your future with a positive attitude, be brave and never lose the spirit of our class.”
In addition to the speeches, the ceremony also included multiple musical elements. The school band played “YMCA,” the Paly Festival Choirs sang “I Smile,” and a group of students played “I Want You Back” and “Walking on Sunshine.”
Sofia Vincent, who sang “I Smile” as part of the choir, told the Weekly after the ceremony that it felt unreal that high school was coming to an end. Reflecting on her time at Paly, Vincent noted that this year’s seniors lost a bit over a quarter of their high school experience to COVID-19 and saw much of the rest of their time on campus influenced by the pandemic. But she said that there were positives to be found in the experience.
“In some ways it detracted, but in a lot of ways it let us make our own meaning out of things,” Vincent said. “It let us redefine certain activities and it let us make our own what might have otherwise been repetition of old traditions.”
Principal Brent Kline told the graduates that what he most appreciated about the Class of 2023 was its ability to go against the tide and create its own trends. Kline said that he was grateful for the students’ “kindheartedness, cooperation (and) willingness to help one another.”
“Graduates, you have shown grit, growth, grace in reaching this significant milestone,” Kline said. “As you step into the next phase of your life, always remember the lessons you learned, the memories you made and the impact that you have on the world ahead of you. May you embrace new challenges with courage, kindness and a sense of purpose.”
When it came time to walk up and receive their diplomas, several seniors did just what Kline said — create their own trend — by doing backflips on stage to gasps, cheers and clapping from the crowd.
As Cameron Phillips left graduation, he said that he was very excited and "super happy" but still processing the milestone: “It still hasn’t really hit me yet that we’ve actually graduated.”
For more graduation coverage, go to Graduation central: Class of 2023 marks its milestone