Under a cloudless blue sky and warm sunshine moderated by a brisk westerly breeze, 560 members of Pioneer Valley High School’s Class of 2021 gathered in the stadium to receive their diplomas and start the next phase of their lives.
The challenges the COVID-19 pandemic forced the seniors to face and the efforts they made to overcome them were woven like threads through the short, concise speeches given by administrators and students alike.
Achievements they made in spite of the pandemic were noted, like the total of $984,000 in scholarships Principal Shanda Herrera said the graduates had earned.
Student speakers urged their classmates to use what they learned about themselves from the pandemic to carry them forward to creating a better world for all.
“The most important thing I’ve learned from all that is to do what would make your future self proud,” said Roann-Mae Lampitoc, the class salutatorian who graduated with a 4.36 GPA and plans to study biology at Cal Poly.
“I’m not talking about things like just pass all your classes and graduate,” Lampitoc told her classmates. “I mean actually live your life in a way that makes it feel like you’re doing something more than just existing.”
She added, “Basically just live life so that you can look back on everything you’ve done with a smile.
Lampitoc said because the Class of 2021 had overcome so much, “Wherever we go, success will follow.”
Valedictorian Evelyn Letona Robles, graduating with a 4.42 GPA and headed to Yale to study political science and global affairs, had much the same attitude and advice to impart to classmates.
“So long as we maintain our focus with clear eyes and a full heart, the roads that lead to a prosperous future will continue to be paved,” Robles said.
She noted the past year and a half of their high school education had been nothing less than unprecedented but had made her see her classmates in a new light.
“With the pandemic keeping us home for a year, seeing you here today made me realize that even in a year defined by difficulty and loss, you kept fighting like the champions that you are,” Robles said. “We have overcome with our strength, humor and grace.”
She urged fellow graduates to not forget the challenges they had faced and how they overcame them as they move on into the next phases of their lives.
Robles noted that “the world looks up to us as the next generation of change-makers, who will fight the injustices of today, to fuel a more equitable and inclusive tomorrow.”
She urged students to take with them the positivity, respect, integrity, dedication and excellence that has connected them and noted together, the graduates all carry the resiliency and strength to achieve anything they set their minds and hearts to accomplish.
“And remember,” she said, “you all have a voice that is worthy to be heard.”
Other speakers were Carlos Rivas Cordova and Gabrielle Sepulveda, Associated Student Body presidents who gave the Student Council’s farewell address, and Sinai Sanchez Barajas, senior class president who gave the Class of 2021’s farewell address.
Although Lampitoc said parents, administrators, teachers and students “together have preserved the authentic spirit of graduation,” the pandemic did change a longtime tradition.
Graduates and family members didn’t hang around to talk and take photographs but left the campus quickly.
Early in the ceremony, parents were advised to send text messages to their students to tell them where they had parked so they could meet there afterward.