CENTER — Center High School graduate MacKayla Arellano, in her salutatorian speech Saturday morning, encouraged her peers to take the disruption caused by the pandemic and use it to explore whom they want to become in life.
"One thing I urge you all to do is dream and to dare. Don't be afraid to fail," Arellano said. "At Center High School we have learned how to learn and not so much what to think but how to think. And that is the true measure of our Center High School education."
Her remarks on May 29 came during the Center School District’s in-person graduation ceremony. The Center High School Class of 2021 gathered at the school's football stadium to celebrate their accomplishments despite having to navigate the public health crisis.
"We survived and you all should be proud because it was a lot of work," Arellano said. "We did our best."
Arellano urged her 22 fellow graduates to enjoy life and not "hurry up."
"Cherish the sound of your best friend's laughter," she said. "Pursue the passion you have been putting off. Slow down, explore, change your mind and change it again, fall in love make mistakes, but most importantly grow."
Last year at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person school was canceled in March 2020 for the remainder of the academic year. Students continued to navigate the 2020-21 school year during the pandemic, with a mix of in-person and online classes.
Center High School Principal Kevin Jones spoke about how proud he was of the Class of 2021 for not giving up.
"This class was based on grit, determination and hard work," Jones said.
To illustrate his point, he asked the seniors to open up the children's book "Try Again Arlo" by Sam Castleton" that he placed under their chairs.
“What this book is about, honestly it's about never quitting,” he said. “Arlo, who is the main character is trying to wave his magic wand. I think our district did not have to wave a magic wand this year — the students persevered. If you all turn to the very last page, the best quote about the Class of 2021 says 'if you persist, never quit, there is nothing you can't do. You deserve a special star for seeing it through.'”
Valedictorian Jesse Bencomo reminisced on all the class has experienced during its senior year.
"I am so proud of all of us for persevering through probably what has been one of the most challenging school years we've ever had," Bencomo said.
Teacher Kevin Hagan gave the commencement address and spoke at length about what the Class of 2021 has witnessed over the past several years.
“Honestly, what advice can I offer to a group of young people who have just experienced one of the greatest disruptions in modern times," Hagan said. "The pandemic has affected every aspect of our way of life from our mental health to our finances to the way we interact with each other on a daily basis. Many of you have experienced stress, anxiety and depression over the course of this last year. Some of you have probably been weighed down by financial hardships. Others have probably struggled with remote learning. Your normal rites of passage like homecoming and prom were not normal at all."
But it was not only the pandemic that had a dramatic impact on the Class of 2021. Over the last several years, they have "witnessed a growing wave of racial injustice sweep across this country," Hagan noted. "Then, the whole world watched in horror as George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minn. For 9 minutes and 29 seconds, the officer held his knee on Floyd's neck. He pleaded for air and cried out 'I can't breathe.'"
If that wasn't enough, Hagan said, the Class of 2021 also witnessed a "political insurrection" at the U.S. Capitol Building that claimed the lives of five people.
"Of any class, in the history of classes, the Class of 2021 deserves an enormous and heartfelt congratulations," Hagan said. "The parents of the Class of 2021, truly deserve legendary congratulations."
Hagan said the Class of 2021 could change the world by living for one another and by caring for strangers as if they were family.
"Every time I made a decision while I was thinking about myself, it ended in regret. And every time I made a decision while I was thinking about others, it ended in hope. That's what the Class of 2021 represents to all of us, that's what this day means to all of us, the promise of hope," he said.
Graduates gave flowers to influential family and friends who helped them reach this day. The graduation was streamed live and later posted on YouTube — Viking News.