School board vice president Jennifer DiBrienza opened her speech by promising to keep it brief, apologizing to the half of the crowd that "can't see a thing and is probably really hot."
But despite a few hiccups, the night was defined by a thankfulness to be together, along with the bittersweet knowledge that many students were saying goodbye.
The sign hanging over the stage put it simply: "We'll miss you!"
More than 3,500 people, possibly almost 4,000, gathered in Paly's quad at 5:30 p.m. to celebrate the 527 graduating seniors.
The crowd was wild despite Principal Brent Kline's request to "keep the air horns away" as the seniors walked the stage. The loud contraptions rang out, names were screamed and giant cardboard cutouts of students' heads were raised above the quad.
The ceremony was very different from 2021's ceremony, with a drastic majority of students and their families not wearing masks, and the event taking place on the quad instead of Viking Stadium.
Graduating senior Cuautemoc M. Guillen, who plans to attend Canada College, said he felt sorry for the graduating classes of 2020, which did not have a traditional commencement ceremony, and 2021, which had a heavily masked and socially distanced ceremony.
However, Guillen said he was thankful he had a commencement ceremony that was much more similar to ones held before the COVID-19 shutdown.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity to actually be here and see my graduation in person," he said.
Many of the commencement ceremony's speakers congratulated Paly students for their resilience, adapting to learning safely during a pandemic and coming back this year to show school spirit.
In her senior speech, Nysa Bhat said Paly students lost a huge part of their high school experience because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We left Paly as sophomores and suddenly came back as seniors," she said.
Students found silver linings during the shutdown by abandoning concerns and apprehensions to embrace a "carpe diem" attitude, Bhat said. "We lived everyday like it was the last day of high school," she said. "Because for all we knew, it could have been."
As he opened the presentation of the graduating class, Principal Kline thanked the students for bringing the "famous Paly spirit back from hibernation."
Along with the graduates' passion, faculty and fellow students commended the seniors for their resilience.
Kline congratulated the Class of 2022 for learning and becoming proficient in digital learning tools to continue their education.
"You demonstrated the ability to press on and bring others with you as all of us began to reconstruct our individual lives within the collective community we call Paly," he said.
And now that the seniors made it through high school, showing spirit and surpassing obstacles, they can look to the future.
Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin charged the graduating class with not only doing great things, but being great people.
"When you have the opportunity to build something or to wreck something, build it," he said. "And that matters most when we talk about people."
In his closing remarks, senior class president Mathew Signorello-Katz got hearty rounds of applause when he said seniors are entering a society plagued with inequity and called on them to vote and protest in response.
"The true change-makers aren't limited to the elected officials residing within the walls of legislative houses," he said. "But rather the groups of ordinary people, united in their belief that our world can be changed for the better."
Although students and faculty gave seniors some lofty goals, the graduating class mostly seemed excited to make the most out of what life gave them next.
Bhat summed up the mood of the evening at the end of her senior speech, answering the question she posed at the beginning: "What would you do on your last day?"
"Who cares?" she said. "You do you!"
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