Nipomo High School's Class of 2019 said their final farewells Friday night, capping off four years as friends and classmates while saying goodbye to one of their longtime counselors.
After 17 years in Nipomo's guidance office — and almost as much time behind the microphone at sports games — Joe Hubbell will leave the school with the graduates, but only after delivering Friday evening's faculty address.
Billed as his "Last Lesson," Hubbel and Larry "Nico" Ortiz implored the Class of 2019 to lead with empathy and cultivate genuine connections with others.
"One of my goals in bringing the Special Olympics and Best Buddies program was to make our school a more tolerant and more inclusive place," Hubbell said. "It warms my heart to see how fully all of our students with special needs are welcomed and included on campus."
A member of the Class of 2019, Ortiz, who has Down syndrome, met Hubbell four years ago as a member of the Special Olympics basketball team. Known across campus for his impeccable dance moves and big heart, Ortiz encouraged graduates to "work hard and never give up."
Principal John Denno praised the 222 graduates for not just elevating the school's academic and athletic profile, but for learning from the student body's diverse backgrounds. He encouraged graduates to "continue to embrace our community" as they venture down their next path.
"Consider how you can expand your influence beyond your school," Denno said, challenging the graduates to make a difference. "With our feeder schools and community service, you have inspired and modeled Nipomo Titan pride."
Graduate Chase Cooper told his classmates to “encourage, not discourage” their peers as they move forward. Competition, he said in his speech, is not a bad thing, but individual success — the number of college acceptances, medallions or cords — should "should not diminish anyone else's."
"This is why I'm glad everyone is required to wear the same outfit at our graduation," Cooper told his classmates. "When you look at us from the crowd, for the very first time in four years, we stand as students of the Nipomo High School graduating Class of 2019. I hope we remember each other, in these colors, on this day, and that the memory continues to unite us."
Madrid Holland, who delivered the valedictory speech for the Class of 2019, recounted the "random, irreplaceable, meaningful moments" graduates used to connect that were "beautiful because of their flaws."
Whether or not passions die out or dreams falter, Holland encouraged graduates to hold onto their "spark."
"With all of our sparks from all different people on campus," Holland added, "we can combine them together to make a lightning bolt."