The Ukiah High School Class of 2021 will graduate in two weeks. With about half of our students attending school four days a week, the campus looks and feels like a school in most ways. Add to that, students participating in every sport and over 200 games during the final months of a school year, and we’re a busy place. This is great news. But, it doesn’t begin to replace the loss of a senior year. This week our seniors dressed up the campus with signs. A giant “2021” greets the entry. Smaller celebrations are posted throughout the school. The one that captured my attention was the small tombstone that begins “R.I.P. Our Senior Year…” That’s the one that captures the moment. It deserves acknowledgment.
As an educator with a bit of life experience, I’d offer two things. Compassionately, I’m sorry for your loss. And then I would offer that at some point, you’ll look back and reflect on this time and your loss in hopes of making sense of this period. Loss is an invitation to reflect on what we value and how we respond. Some powerful answers to this inquiry can be found among our seniors. In their journey, we see the values and strengths inspired by family, school, society, and self. And we see a renewal of hope - a gift from and to the Class of 2021.
When she arrives at U.C. Santa Barbara in the fall, Lauren Lazarevich will be the first in her family to attend college. Lauren has done the work to earn this honor - a 4.25 GPA in the toughest classes, including numerous Advanced Placement classes, a competitive water polo player and swimmer, and the Student Body Vice President. Her drive and determination honor her family’s journey. The struggles of her mother and grandmother, first in the Philippines and then as immigrants, guide her to take advantage of every opportunity. In attending college, she has realized her mother’s lifelong dream. Lauren also values the richness and complexity of growing up in a multi-cultural family. She knows the challenges of bridging between cultures, and more importantly, the power of being a bridge-builder. Lauren’s attitude is unyieldingly positive. In the face of a pandemic, she says, “why waste energy on anger, when I can be content.” Lauren’s journey teaches us to do the work to honor the dreams we share with those that love us.
Headed to UCLA, Michael Leggett will also be the first in his family to attend college. While proud of his family’s working-class roots, Michael is a natural student. A complex thinker that is clearly introspective, he is also a gifted and earnest conversationalist. He built his confidence through running cross country and track. Finally, he was elected senior class president. Through his Pomo family, he has embraced a sense of community that is broad and caring. In his family and culture, he has also seen genuine struggle. The drive that gained him admission to one of the most selective universities in the nation is now set on becoming a psychologist. In this choice, he reveals his response to adversity - work hard and contribute. In this case, work to lessen the pain of future generations.
Senior Carlos Diaz will be studying mechanical engineering at Stanford University in the fall. He will be a first-generation college student too. Like so many accomplished students in our community, Carlos’s family immigrated to our nation seeking to contribute and create educational opportunities for the next generation. For Carlos, this mission has been clear. He excelled from the day he stepped into a classroom. In a poised and clear reflection, he recalls a pivotal moment in life - a class trip in the fourth grade to Stanford University. On that day, he saw a 3D printer, new technology at the time, and met mechanical engineering students. He was mesmerized. The rest of the story is a blur of accelerated academic achievement. By the end of the eleventh grade, he’d completed two years of calculus and went on to take the third level of calculus at Mendocino College. From the bright eyes of a little boy to a senior staring through a pandemic, Carlos Diaz never lost sight of why his family was here - educational opportunity.
These stories, like so many more in the Class of 2021, reveal what we value and how we respond. Believing in hopes and dreams. Working hard. Honoring family. Committing to making this world a better place. Thank you for the inspiration, Ukiah High School Class of 2021. Tougher than the rest - keep it up.