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City's commencement ceremonies celebrate success despite COVID challenges
CSUS graduation 1
A first-generation Stanislaus State college graduate shows his enthusiasm at one of the university’s many ceremonies held over the past two weeks (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Whether it was over Zoom or in a mask-filled classroom, the Class of 2021 walked across the stage to receive their diplomas this week as the first students to attend an entire school year during a global pandemic. 

Turlock Unified School District seniors were able to celebrate their accomplishments with in-person graduation ceremonies held throughout the week, though both Turlock and Pitman high schools saw their graduating classes split into two for separate, consecutive events which allowed for social distancing. Despite mask requirements and smaller crowds than usual, there was just enough pomp and circumstance in the air for things to feel like normal.

“Congratulations, you graduated from high school in the midst of a global pandemic. There is not another living person in our country, or perhaps the world, outside of your age group who can say the same thing,” TUSD Board President Lori Carlson told graduates. “...You have adapted to learning in new ways, found creative means to stay connected with friends and family through the year of quarantine and school closure, you’ve mastered Zoom and celebrated participating in school activities and sports in new and different ways once health restrictions began to lift in the spring...You have proven you can adapt, be resilient and persevere in the face of unbelievable challenges.”

PHS Distinguished Scholars Rachel Worthington and Tristan Allen both expressed the same sentiment in their speeches to the amphitheater crowd on Thursday evening: The challenges of the past year may have seemed insurmountable at times, but they ultimately helped the Class of 2021 grow into who they are destined to be.

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Pitman High Distinguished Scholar Tristan Allen speaks to his fellow 2021 graduates on Thursday about the challenges of the past year (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Allen reminisced on a moment very early on in his Pride career when he wrote a message on the dusty underside of the old piano in the Drama room. When he scrawled “Failure is the true path to success” some years ago, he had no idea how relevant the mantra would eventually become during his senior year when classmates rediscovered the note upon the return of in-person instruction.

“Simply put, this past year has highlighted that fact,” he said.

Worthington encouraged her fellow graduates to become their own “authors of history.”

“Class of 2021, we are strong and resilient. We adapted and worked through a global pandemic that left us with a long period of uncertainty, but we fought,” she said. “We fought to stay engaged and connected, we fought to stay hopeful, we fought to make our voices heard. I believe in us and I believe in our generation, and this is only the beginning.”

THS valedictorian Josiah Gonzales likened the abnormal school year to one of his track and field teammates, who gave his all during a race despite having asthma.

“All of us had ‘good and reasonable’ excuses to give up or quit this year. We couldn’t always see the finish line and at times it felt like it could be too much to handle, and yet we all made it,” Gonzales said. 

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Turlock High graduate Kayla Guerrero shows off her diploma at Friday’s commencement ceremony (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Bulldog Lillian Escobar said she originally began writing her commencement speech last school year when students were first sent home due to the pandemic, but quickly realized she couldn’t possibly fathom what life would be like a year from then. Fast forward to the THS ceremony on Friday night, and Escobar had plenty to reflect on.

“We endured a whole year of living virtually, and despite it all we were able to connect with each other, educate each other, love each other and fight for each other. We as a student body have supported one another, and now as we transition into a new period of our lives we say goodbye to the past, this school and to each other,” Escobar said. “...We have overcome many obstacles, accomplished many achievements and now we are starting on our own pursuit of happiness and prosperity. Each one of us is about to venture off on our own unique and intricate journey and we must celebrate — we undeniably deserve to.”

Turlock adult school graduation
Turlock Adult School graduates listen to speeches before receiving their respective diplomas (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Turlock’s older students also celebrated commencement over the last two weeks, with Stanislaus State’s Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 both taking part in respective in-person ceremonies. The Class of 2020 was able to celebrate last week after their commencement was cancelled last year, and the most recent graduating Class of 2021 was honored this week. 

While the ceremonies looked a bit different, with graduates standing at their chairs to be recognized rather than walking on stage, it was a special occasion for many.

“In normal circumstances, commencement is a monumental achievement; however, the past year has been anything but normal. As such, you’ve accomplished something that is quite exceptional. Not only did you earn your college degree, you survived and thrived in spite of the many difficulties that unfolded around you over the past year,” Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn told graduates. “...When everything changed in the blink of an eye on our campus, across the nation and around the world, you kept your eye on the ball. You worked tirelessly to stay motivated under the most challenging and uncertain circumstances. You fulfilled your commitment to yourself to succeed, and now here you are today — a proud member of your graduating class.”

— Look in the June 5 issue of Turlock Journal for list of local high school graduates.