Don’t blink, I told myself not long ago. Because all too quickly, the kiddos are growing up. In a scenario that I could not have foreseen as I sent the kids to elementary school over a decade ago, my two eldest children both graduated high school in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic. Jacob graduated as part of last year’s class of 2020, and was celebrated with a car parade at the high school. While his senior year wasn’t what he hoped for, life still went on, and he got a full time job and started classes at our local community college. His sister graduated this past June, and has decided on a much different path. She is headed overseas to study in the Czech Republic. As such, we are now en route to Prague by way of Istanbul.
I am not entirely surprised by her decision to go overseas. From an early age, Emily has been an adventurer, the sort who takes calculated chances. She’s the kid who most enjoyed my hare-brained outdoors adventures, the kid who jumped out of the raft when whitewater rafting to float in Swimmer’s Rapids, the kid who jumped off the highest diving board when given the opportunity. So it makes sense that she would take the plunge, go half-way around the world and study international relations. Internationally.
But she is still my baby. This past June, I had the privilege of addressing her class at their in-person graduation at Santa Anita Park. While the audience was limited to only four approved guests per graduate, and there were strict requirements on masking and social distancing, it was still a really sweet time celebrating our students. For me, while I was watching the ceremony from the stage as a proud board member, I was also celebrating as an even prouder parent. It was truly a blessing to be able to represent as both.
Below is the text of the commencement address. Of course I took a line to gently call attention to my kid. But above all, I hoped to convey that we are proud of our graduating students, especially as their high school experiences have been upended by what seems to be a never-ending global pandemic.
Gabrielino High School Class of 2021- , delivered on June 8, 2021
Good evening Gabrielino staff and families, San Gabriel Unified administration, members of the governing board, and especially the graduating class of 2021.
It is a privilege to be able to address you all tonight, on this your very last day of high school. As a long time San Gabriel parent, I have had the joy of being able to watch many of you grow up. In fact, for one of you, it seems like I’ve known you all your life. Literally. (Hi Emily) Seriously though, it seems like only yesterday that you all were little, and in the geologic time scale of things, it really wasn’t all that long ago, and yet so much has changed.
Graduation is often referred to as a commencement ceremony, and according to the internet, a commencement refers to the start of something. In the wise words of the band Semisonic, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Sadly, you are at the end of your time here in the San Gabriel Unified School District. However, you are all at what is just the beginning of the rest of your life.
Once upon a time, in a galaxy not far away, you were all starting kindergarten, some of you bounding up the hallways, excited to start your elementary school journey, and some, I remember well, hung back a little, holding tightly to your parents’ hands. But from there you grew quickly, not just in size but in knowledge and confidence, and it was not long before you were promoted onto Jefferson. Three years in middle school were over in a blink, and all too soon you were entering the gates at Gabrielino, where you would spend the next four years making friends, accessing high quality academics, and programs to grow your interests- from athletics to art, to award-winning music programs, drama, or nationally ranked speech and debate.
Indeed it was going to be a busy, but idyllic four years in the red buildings on San Gabriel Boulevard. Or so we thought. Not one of us could have foreseen the Covid19 pandemic of 2020, as it cut short your junior year with all the plans you had made, and then had the audacity to wear away your senior year. I know that many of you grieved with the loss of normalcy, over the “what could have beens.” But through the depression and the angst, the fear, and for some of you, the devastating loss, still you persevered. You kept up in your studies, navigated new systems and protocols, and bore with the ever-changing rules placed before you. And you made it. You are here. You not only survived, but you have the tools you need to thrive.
And now, Eagles, your time has come to commence, after all this is a commencement. As you leave the confines of high school I hope that you will take with you all that you learned during your time here at Gab. Your time at Gabrielino has laid a strong foundation for you. But what you have learned here is just the start of your educational journey. Here’s some unsolicited parental advice: Commit to being lifelong learners. As you enter the world as adults- to go to college, travel the world, start your careers, serve your country- you will learn lessons that no school can ever really teach you. Learn from those experiences. Life is a difficult teacher, but she is effective. Work diligently, be a good friend, persevere even when times are hard. After this past year and a half, I know that you know how to persevere. Don’t be afraid to seek out a mentor, someone who has gone before you and is willing to come alongside you and share their wisdom. And when you are ready, be sure to pay it forward and help train up the generation after yourselves.
I hope that you take with you good memories: of band championships, power outages during a football game, the incessant smoke alarms, late night speech tournaments, and a fabulous socially distanced senior dinner in the quad and so much more.
Finally, Eagles, as you leave the nest, to live your adventure, and soar to great heights, I wish you all the best on your journey. I am so very proud of you. And it gives me great joy, on behalf of the governing board, to be among the first to congratulate you, Gabrielino Eagles, Class of 2021.
There is more to come, but right now it feels appropriate to thank you for being a part of this journey. Parenthood has been a privilege, with many highs and lows, some reaching depths that I could not have imagined when first embarking on this road. But it is a privilege nonetheless. And in the wise words of my dad, it doesn’t end even after the kids leave the house. I know that as Emily gets settled across an entire hemisphere away, I will still worry and pray constantly. But this is also the natural course of life, and I am excited for the growth and learning she will experience being in a different country far from home. After all, that’s what parenting is: holding them close while they are little- loving them, protecting them, and teaching them- then learning to let them go when they’re ready. And in the end, no matter how far she goes, or how high she soars, she will always be my baby bird. Life is indeed an adventure meant to be shared.