Carpinteria High School celebrates graduation with Olympic gold medalist
For the first time in school history, Carpinteria High School welcomed a special keynote speaker to encourage the class of 2021 during its commencement Thursday.
Dain Blanton, a beach volleyball champion and Olympic gold medalist, addressed about 140 graduates during the school’s 104th graduation ceremony.
Students recognized Mr. Blanton from his involvement with the “Get Focused … Stay Focused” program, which encourages students to create a career-and-life plan before leaving high school.
Surrounded by graduates donning red caps and gowns, Mr. Blanton reminisced on his Olympic experience during his address to students. He told the audience that when his team entered the Olympic games, they were ranked ninth out of 24, and no one expected them to go very far.
But with hard work and focused intentions, the team came out victorious, clinching the gold medal against the No. 1-ranked Brazilian team. Looking back on the outcome of those Olympic games, Mr. Blanton told students that “anything is possible” if they stay focused on their goals.
“It’s so important that you stay the course, that you focus on what is next and that you get to that higher level,” Mr. Blanton said.
He added, “No matter what you go for when you leave here, no matter what the next step is, you can blaze a new trail.”
The former Olympian even brought his gold medal to show the audience.
During Thursday’s ceremony, student and faculty speakers alike noted the unique challenges the class faced during its time in high school. Between the Thomas Fire, the Montecito mudslides and the COVID-19 pandemic, the students missed about two years of their high school experience due to unprecedented circumstances, Principal Gerardo Cornejo told the audience.
“All those events have brought with them anxieties, human tragedies, doubts and an array of emotions, but also acts of heroism and community building and neighbor helping neighbor, just like Carpinterians know how to,” Mr. Carnejo said.
The class salutatorians — Hannia Hernandez Aviles and Javier Zamora Juarez — and valedictorian Cassidy Rae Hajducko took to the stage on Thursday night as well, recalling cherished high school memories and praising their classmates for making it through a difficult pandemic school year.
Between the three speeches, a similar sentiment rang true: “Warrior spirit never dies.”
“We have faced many hurdles throughout our high school ife, especially in regards to academics,” Javier said. “However, we are warriors, and we have not only proven that we as students are adaptable to change, but our teachers and staff have also exemplified this.”
During Hannia’s speech, which she delivered in Spanish and English, she told the audience that she had often been called a dreamer for reasons that included Thursday’s commencement.
“I dreamed of swinging my gold tassel from right to left, and only in my wildest dreams did I see myself wearing this medal and speaking in front of all of you,” she said.
“Even though I dreamed of a ‘High School Musical’ experience like many did, these past four years have had way more drama, twists and turns, highs and lows than we could have ever imagined,” Hannia later added. “Yet here we are about to accomplish all these dreams.”
To cap off the student speeches, Cassidy recalled the hurdles the class overcame to make it to graduation day, praising her classmates for their resilience.
“Our ability to overcome each and every one of them demonstrates nothing more than the strength and resiliency of the class of 2021,” Cassidy said. “It’s not everyday that you can tell people that your sophomore year was the only normal year of high school you had.”
In an interview with the News-Press on Friday, Mr. Conejo reflected on the graduation ceremony and the experience of the class of 2021. He said the ceremony was a success because “we were able to give our seniors the opportunity to walk across a physical stage that previous classes have had the opportunity to do.”
“We’re very proud of our students,” Mr. Conejo said. “This class had only one regular school year in their four years that was uninterrupted. Every time there was a challenge presented, they stepped up to the plate, made the best of it, and did what they needed to do, which was focus on their goals, focus on postsecondary outlook, be a student and be a warrior.
“They’ve been warriors all along.”