The defining word for Los Altos High School's graduating Class of 2023 has been "perseverance," student emcee Isha Chudasama told the crowd at the school's Thursday, June 8, commencement ceremony.
This year's graduates were freshmen when schools shuttered in response to the coronavirus pandemic and students had to adapt to taking their classes online. The year spent in remote learning "completely altered our high school experience," Chudasama said.
While this year's graduation largely operated like pre-pandemic ceremonies – with over 500 seniors receiving their diplomas in front of a packed crowd of family members and friends at the school's stadium – the impact that COVID-19 has had on students was clear throughout the event.
Student graduation speaker Austin Liu recalled the day in September 2020 when wildfire smoke turned the sky orange. Despite the heat and bad air quality, Liu found himself doing jumping jacks in his backyard, because he couldn't get reception anywhere in his house for his Zoom PE class.
"At that moment, I had only one thought in my mind: How the heck did we get here?" Liu said. "Our four years of high school have – to put it simply – been like no other in history. With everything that happened, it feels strange to walk the steps in an almost uncannily normal graduation as we conclude four years that have been anything but.”
In a joint speech, Principal Wynne Satterwhite and Assistant Principal Galen Rosenberg also reflected on the impact the pandemic had on the school community. The Class of 2023 experienced four of the "most unusual and challenging years" that any high schoolers have gone through, Satterwhite said.
“They made the best of a very challenging situation," Rosenberg said. "Experiences they hadn’t ever imagined became normal: wearing masks, standing six-feet apart, taking a COVID test, having a classroom discussion with a panel of faces on a screen.”
While acknowledging the hardships that students endured, Rosenberg and Satterwhite also explored the lessons that could be learned from the past few years. After living through so much abnormality, the pair questioned whether "normal" was really something worth striving for.
"You can imagine a world that is different, that isn’t normal, because you’ve experienced a world disrupted," Satterwhite told the graduates. "Take the lessons that you have learned and the dreams that you have envisioned and make the world a place where being normal is as weird as it actually is, and being your own unique person is what we all truly value.”
This year also marks a transition in leadership at the school, as both Satterwhite and Rosenberg retire after decades spent working at Los Altos High. Student speaker Naidely Gonzalez-Herrera thanked Satterwhite for her 38 years of service to the school, telling the principal that she would be missed dearly.
Gonzalez-Herrera also used her speech to talk about the tight knit community that she said exists on campus. To illustrate the point, Gonzalez-Herrera told the story of standing in the quad one day during her freshman year and feeling a bird poop on her head. Moments later, as she stood in the bathroom on the verge of tears and trying to clean up the mess, Gonzalez-Herrera said that a girl she had never met offered to wash her hair. That stranger's kindness stuck with her.
“Four years later, on the verge of graduating, I think back to that day and am reminded that through everything we’ve gone through in these four years, we didn’t make it here on our own," Gonzalez-Herrera said.