‘I feel like I’m passing another plateau in life’

Noemy Vazquez-Santos and Cody Van Gelder embrace during the recessional at the Anzar High School graduation ceremony Thursday.

For the students of Anzar High School, it was a day of graduation gowns, decorated hats, flowered leis – and diplomas.
“It feels amazing that I completed high school,” said Yulissa Avalos, as she lined up with classmates. “I feel proud of myself that I was able to do everything.”
Yulissa was one of 62 graduating seniors who took to the stage inside the campus gym Thursday to celebrate the first steps toward post-high school life.
Just outside the gym, to the right, students Haley Lovell, Pedro Montejano Jr. and Kaitlin Nunez waited for their chance to walk to their seats for commencement. The three classmates, who stood in line together for a matter of minutes Thursday, were parting ways to go to cosmetology school, take classes at San Francisco State University and work in the strawberry fields, respectively.
They waited for music to usher them into the ceremony.
“Instead of the regular pomp and circumstance, each student gets to pick a 20-second clip of a song they want to walk to,” said Lovell, 18, who is off to cosmetology school at Gavilan College in the fall.
Standing next to her was Montejano Jr., who is taking a year off to work in strawberry fields as he has for the past four years. Then, it’s on to Cabrillo College near Santa Cruz.
“I feel like I’m passing another plateau in life,” he said. “It’s basically time to take the bull by the horns.”
Once their songs start, the students have to loop around the crowd and take their place on the stage before the music runs out.  
“It’s kind of stressful to walk that fast,” said Lovell.
“Yeah, especially in heels,” added neighboring graduate Nunez, who is headed to San Francisco State University in the fall.
Nunez’s graduation hat was covered in maps and held the quote: “Not all who wander are lost.”
“It’s a quote from Lord of the Rings. I want to travel,” she said. “I want to study abroad.”
Decorated hats like Nunez’s are a tradition at the school.
“We all decorate our own. It’s whatever you want,” said graduate Hannah Woehrmann.
Her classmate, Noemy Vazquez, sported a mockingjay on her hat, a symbol from the popular science fiction trilogy, The Hunger Games.
“May the odds be ever in your favor,” read the quote on her hat, a reference to the last words said to contestants as they set off into a game, where their lives – like those of the graduating class – are at stake.  
The school’s valedictorian Alexandra Bautista gave the students a special send-off address.
“You all have the future to look forward to and new adventures to make,” said the senior, who is off to Santa Clara University in the fall.
Bautista thanked advisors and teachers who helped students reach their highest potential before switching to rhyming poetry to express her final thoughts.
“The strength of high school is gone,” she read. “I guess it’s time to move on.”
It was a ceremony with a lot of poetry. The senior advisors – including Principal Charlene McKowen – took to the stage to roast and toast their students. McKowen used personalized Haiku poetry to recognize her pupils. Senior advisor and teacher Victoria Morris presented framed photos to her students and spoke through tears as she announced she is graduating with the class this year.
Advisor Gregory Braithwaite spoke last, reminding students it’s not about the college they go to, the job they hold or how much money they make, but rather how they live. When he meets a stranger or a neighbor, he looks at his or her character, he said.
“I’m thinking about who they are as a person,” Braithwaite said.
The graduates spilled into the aisle to the sound of more music, giving high fives and hugs as they walked to the song, “We are Young.”
Outside, Lovell’s grandparents, Gary and Glenda Ihnen, stood by a car painted with the words “Yay,” “Class of 2014” and “Haley” and waited for their graduate.
“I tell you, she’s our oldest granddaughter,” the grandfather said. “It was just a blessing and a miracle and time goes by so fast.”

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