The sounds of cowbells, air horns and muffled cheers filled O’Leary Stadium Wednesday as Dos Pueblos High School celebrated its 55th graduating class.
Excitement was eminent as graduates entered the stadium, donning navy and gold robes, decorated caps and, in true pandemic fashion, face masks. After an unpredictable year filled with COVID-19 school closures and restrictions, the cheers from family members and friends rang loud and long as 515 graduates crossed the stage to receive their long-awaited diploma.
Principal Bill Woodard opened the ceremony by reflecting on the unique moments the seniors have experienced during their time at DPHS.
He recalled that the first day of freshman year for the class was on Aug. 21, 2017, which was the day the historic solar eclipse spanned the United States for the first time in decades.
Mr. Woodard told the audience that when he thinks about that day, he never could have predicted the other impactful moments the class of 2021 would live through.
“While everyone’s high school experience is filled with ups and downs, nobody knew on that day that the next four years would be filled with such unanticipated challenges, heartbreaks and, excuse the pun, eclipsed memories,” Mr. Woodard said. “From the devastating Thomas Fire, to the Montecito debris flow of your freshman year, to the tragic loss of your classmate and friend in February of your junior year, and of course a month later, the pandemic. Let’s be real; it cut short many senior moments.”
Despite these challenges, Mr. Woodard said the students are now leaving with “a new sense of appreciation for school,” which will forever be memorialized in a new tile mural that has been installed alongside two walls of the school’s exterior. Each senior contributed a tile to the mural and the school plans to install a plaque reminding future students to never take for granted their educational experience — a lesson that many students learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Multiple seniors took the stage to deliver words of encouragement and reflection to the graduating class. While looking back on fond memories and chuckling at inside jokes, the senior speakers congratulated the class on their resiliency during a challenging and unprecedented year.
“When we were told that we were the generation of change, I don’t think any of us could’ve imagined the type of change we would face today,” Senior Mikayla Ramirez said during her speech. “Remote learning, social distancing and wearing masks to stay safe — whoa. That was a lot for us to endure, but we proved once again that we as a whole are resilient and together.”
During her speech, senior Sydney Carlson discussed how the abnormalities of the pandemic helped her see life from new perspectives, causing her to empathize with those who faced discrimination based on their race, religion and ethnicity.
She encouraged students to use the lessons learned from the pandemic to bring about lasting change, particularly by continuing to educate themselves on issues facing society.
“In order to make significant, positive change to our world, people like me need to put in work, and become truly educated on issues that may not directly affect us,” Sydney said. “Education means far more than just going to and from school. Education requires stepping out of your comfort zone, putting in your own research, looking at society from different perspectives (and) asking unlimited questions. Further educating ourselves will only give us the opportunity to create a more fair and equitable society. This is the change we should all want to make.”
As four years at Dos Pueblos drew to close Wednesday night, Mr. Woodard encouraged students to relish the moment and the accomplishment of graduating.
“Because you persevered, because you sacrificed, because you kept hope, because you were inventive and solution-oriented and, most importantly, because you were more resilient than we could have ever imagined, you are here today,” Mr. Woodard said. “And may that resourcefulness, that ability to confront challenges and persevere and that example of the DPHS community rallying together to problem solve, be remembered by you and your generation as you confront challenges ahead — climate change, social and racial justice (and) building a stronger, more sustainable society.”