SBHS graduate uses Chumash heritage, academics to further his learning
Francisco Casmali Lopez knows where he came from, even if he’s not sure exactly where it’ll take him.
The 18-year-old senior will cross the stage with his fellow seniors tonight during Santa Barbara High’s commencement ceremony. This fall, he will be attending Colorado College in Colorado Springs and his major will be decided at a later date.
During a recent interview with the News-Press, Mr. Lopez was asked where he sees himself in 10 years.
“All sorts of places,” he said. “I really have no idea. One of my problems has always been that I’ve been interested in too many things. There’s always too many books to read, and there’s too much information out there – especially with the internet… I could see myself getting pulled in all sorts of directions depending on how everything goes in college.”
During his time at Santa Barbara High School, Mr. Lopez has been involved in social justice and equity. He promoted the concept of the Santa Barbara Unified School District implementing Ethnic Studies as a requirement for future graduates, in large part due to his upbringing as a member of the Chumash, an indigenous people in Santa Barbara.
“For me, the importance of a lot of Chumash traditions are in their ontological lessons for the future,” he explained. “There’s something very real and concrete about some of the lessons of Chumash traditions in Santa Barbara.”
Some of those lessons include fire-tending techniques and the different ways to tend to plants for mutually beneficial relationships.
“All those things have all sorts of lessons that are not only important for the Chumash people in Santa Barbara, but have implications for all of society,” he said.
“If we don’t have people actively engaged with (these Chumash lessons), then they’re going to be lost,” he said.
Earlier this year, Mr. Lopez received the “Principal’s Award” for his character and contributions to the local community. He told the News-Press that he wasn’t expecting the award, but was honored to be recognized.
“Throughout this year I’ve been working really closely with the principal (Elise Simmons). I’ve been really appreciative of her work to get student voice in the administrative process at Santa Barbara High,” he said. “She made the space to build that relationship. I was very appreciative to have an administrator that wanted to listen to or have conversations with students, which is not always the case.”
Mr. Lopez also expressed gratitude to members of the school board who, he explained, have had tough conversations about what could be viewed as “awkward political positions.”
Growing up, Mr. Lopez said he has been taught the “contradiction” between learning about history through school and through the Chumash community.
“Having to be forced into this position of having to become almost a historian to figure out what exactly the correct, so to speak, narrative is,” he explained.
“That’s sort of the approach that drives me,” he said. “Through that study and through making sure you have all your facts straight, you can see the real necessity of it beyond just personal experience. When you see that sort of broader necessity – it makes it real easy to wake up in the morning and put the work in.”
Mr. Lopez will graduate with a 4.5 GPA. He is honored to share the commencement ceremony with his fellow seniors, but as someone who is not a fan of formal ceremonies he is looking forward to getting through the event sooner than later.
“One of my hesitance about formal ceremonies is that it never tells the full story,” he explained. “You have to have a sit down conversation to find out all the details that got them to that diploma.”
Each student that will receive their diploma tonight has their own personal story, and Mr. Lopez is no different.