"But amidst all this loneliness emerged something far more profound: a genuine desire to connect that brought our class closer than ever before," she said. "Even in isolation, I want to believe that we seniors were never truly alone."
The crowd that gathered on Gunn's football field on Wednesday evening got to experience a graduation ceremony that in many ways aligned with pre-pandemic traditions. The Class of 2022 entered as "Pomp & Circumstance" played, students and school staff gave speeches, and proud families cheered as their graduates' names were called.
Principal Wendy Stratton focused her speech to the assembled graduates on the power of saying "yes" after experiencing a pandemic that frequently forced everyone to say "no." According to Stratton, more students than ever before have now said "yes" to opportunities to experience a sense of community with one another.
Stratton also told the Class of 2022 that they will be uniquely equipped to become contributing citizens and make an impact, given the barriers they faced.
"As I considered what to focus on with you this evening, I noted how creative and courageous you have been in the face of challenges placed in your path — we're talking personally, politically, economically, socially, racially and environmentally," Stratton said.
The four student graduation speakers each shared different challenges they had dealt with during high school and the ways they addressed them. Oren Schube reflected on his experiences with mental health issues during middle school and high school.
Trying to make sense of who he was and struggling with low self-esteem, Schube said that he entered high school in a dark place. Through joining the Art Spectrum class at Gunn, as well as receiving professional help, Schube said that his well-being improved.
"I learned that it was OK to like the things I liked — and I learned how to figure out what those things are," Schube said. "I learned that good people gravitate towards you if you are unabashedly yourself."
He left the audience with the message that they will still be themselves, no matter what comes their way.
"It's always going to be you — earnest, intelligent, brave, resilient, sometimes obnoxious, incredible you," Schube said. "You can think what you will, but I happen to think that's pretty neat."
Neha Muthiah shared her story of transitioning to Gunn after living in India for seven years and then learning only a month after starting at the high school that she would need to get serious spinal surgery. According to Muthiah, her classmates and teachers came together to support her — helping to organize her return to school, carrying her belongings and checking to see how she was doing.
"With the physical and logistial stresses off my hands, I was able to look into myself," Muthiah said. "I emerged with a newfound sense of appreciation for myself and those around me."
Fellow graduate Mona Pillai similarly spoke about the way that Gunn's students and staff supported her after her mother was involved in a hit-and-run accident this year.
"What I found the most beautiful about this experience was the tight-knit community I had around me — which made it easy for me to process different circumstances in my life," Pillai said.
In addition to hearing from student speakers, the graduation ceremony also included two retiring teachers, Marc Igler and Lynne Navarro, who presented the traditional Faculty Cup Award to two seniors. The award is meant to honor students who exemplify the traits that the school values, including creative thinking, adaptability and social and ethical responsibility, Igler and Navarro said.
The award was presented to Saman de Silva and Ines Garcia, one of the graduation speakers.
Stratton presented the Principal's Cup Award, which honors a Gunn teacher, to Lisa Hall, the school's student activities director.
This year's event also included a tribute to Gunn science teacher Ann Lorey, who recently died. Graduate Alex Fester described his teacher as someone who taught students to take care of themselves and remember that the present moment is temporary. Lorey's approach was informed by her positive attitude, Fester said.
"Despite personal struggles and an unpredictable world, she remained optimistic about the future," he said. "This is because she believed it belonged to us, the youth, the very people sitting in front of me today. We are in a unique position to demand and be the architects for change."
After the ceremony, Julianna Chang told the Weekly she enjoyed her time at Gunn and that graduation was a bittersweet experience, bringing with it a mix of emotions.
"I'm excited to be going off to college and hanging out this summer with my friends," Chang said. "But I'm also super sad because this is kind of the final event of your childhood, before you grow up and you move on."
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