Schools and Libraries
June 25, 2013
It was fitting at the conclusion of a year like no other in recent history that the Long Beach High School Class of 2013 should experience a graduation like no other in recent history. After battering the barrier island with all her fury in October, Mother Nature blessed this year’s graduates with perfect weather for the first outdoor commencement exercise in more than 25 years. It was also fitting that the lessons learned in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy would become the central theme of the 90th annual commencement ceremony.
The bleachers at Veterans Field were filled to capacity as proud family members waited for the high school wind ensemble to strike up the first chords of “Pomp and Circumstance,” signaling the start of the ceremony. Cheers erupted as the members of the Class of 2013 made their way down the field, preceded by board members, administrators and teachers, all dressed in ceremonial graduation robes.
After senior Russell Goetz performed a heartfelt rendition of the national anthem, Principal Dr. Gaurav Passi asked everyone to remain standing for a moment of silence to honor the memory of two students who had been lost by the Class of 2013 — Christopher Cuzzo and Shakur Moore.
Dr. Passi went on to speak of the unique lessons the members of this class will take with them as they journey on in life. “This year especially, you’ve learned to open your eyes and your hearts to the struggles of humanity and the power of diversity,” he said. “When Hurricane Sandy hit Long Beach, this class was a source of strength for our school and our community. You made sure that the true story of Hurricane Sandy was not what it did to you, but rather what you did in the days, weeks and months after the storm. Even though you were devastated yourselves, you still gave to rebuild our community. You showed that you were strong, that you were committed and that you would not let anything stand in your way. As you move through the rest of your life, never forget the lessons you learned after the storm.”
Board President Roy Lester began by acknowledging what a difficult year this has been for the entire Long Beach community. But instead of dwelling on their hardships, he urged each and every graduate to focus rather on being grateful. “Every night before you go to bed, make a mental note of three big things you are grateful for and three little things that went well. You have worked so hard and come through so much to be here today. Make your heart conscious of your treasures and adopt an attitude of gratitude. You deserve to feel that kind of ‘alive’ every day.”
Salutatorian Carlo Sevilla drew the inspiration for his address from his own experiences in the Class Olympics. He told of how scared he was to go out on stage to perform the first time as a freshman, and how he strived for perfection and failed. Instead of being booed for his mistake, he was, to his surprise, cheered on by his classmates. “Although we did not win that night, or any year that followed, I gained more from my losses than from any victory,” he acknowledged. “Looking back now, that performance reflects what we, the Class of 2013, have been through these past four years. We surely did not run from our problems — we confronted them, resolved them and learned from the experience. Looking back, I have learned that your value as a student is not defined by the grade achieved at the end of the year, but by the experience you’ve gained and by the application of your wisdom. So, be confident of your abilities and pursue your goals as you pursue your own happiness.”
Reflecting on the class’s shared journey in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, valedictorian Jennifer Nash said, “The storm was brutal. It threatened to wash away our spirits, crush our sense of community and destroy our lives. But Sandy could not and cannot break the foundation of our community. We’ve experienced how working together can abolish, destroy and eradicate any obstacle placed in our path. We’ve learned about the power of unity, the importance of every piece of the continent. We celebrate life lessons and experiences – the idea that although our strength may falter, it never disappears. As we leave high school and look to new ground, we must never let challenge and fear limit us in our endeavors.”
Superintendent of Schools David Weiss echoed many of the sentiments of the day. “The accomplishments of the Class of 2013 are different from all 89 other classes that have come before them,” he said. “No other seniors have had to do what you have done. Each graduate and each family in Long Beach has stories to tell. But the stories all share one common thread. Despite what befell you and your families, you have reached this milestone that we recognize today. The theme of perseverance will be central as you recount these stories in years to come — the idea that when faced with challenges, we can work through them and come out on the other side.”
Prior to the presentation of the graduates, the select choir and the high school wind ensemble performed a musical tribute to America.
As the graduates crossed the stage one by one to receive their diplomas, they shook hands with the board members and administrators who congratulated them on their accomplishments.
The final speakers of the day, senior class officers Ashita Patel and Harli Weitz, recalled how they share the same emotions today as they did 13 years ago when they stepped on the bus for their first day of kindergarten. They drew inspiration for the next new journey they are about to face from the wise words of Dr. Seuss, reciting “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose…Today you are you that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the one who’ll decide where to go.”
Then as tradition dictates, they directed their fellow graduates to move their tassels from right to left, signifying this important rite of passage that they had successfully completed. The graduates closed the ceremony by proudly tossing their mortarboards into the air, creating a symbolic wave of true blue Long Beach pride.