Some will be attending four year colleges in the fall, others will spend two years at a four-year college before deciding their next step. Some will enter technical training programs, others will join the military and others still will move directly into the workforce.
About 330 seniors from Colusa County’s five high schools crossed the stage to receive their high school diplomas during last Friday’s graduation ceremonies in the communities of Arbuckle, Colusa, Maxwell, Princeton, and Williams.
While the paths for each of the graduating students will diverge from here, last Friday offered each school’s graduating class a chance to reflect on four years of hard work and to celebrate their achievements – as a group – one last time.
Pierce High School and Williams High School led the way with about 100 graduates each. Colusa’s ceremony saw 89 seniors cross the stage. Maxwell and Princeton had 28 and 8 graduating seniors, respectively. A handful of students, including those who were home schooled and those who attended a district’s alternative high school graduated in ceremonies that took place earlier in the week. Ceremonies at Colusa Alternative High School, Arbuckle Alternative High School, and Mid Valley High (Continuation) School were each held last Wednesday.
Colusa High School
The evening sun sinking behind the old Pirelli Cable facility painted the stratus clouds on the western horizon in hues of orange and pink, just as recently declared graduates cast their caps skyward following Friday’s commencement ceremony in Colusa: it was the ceremony’s last hurrah – a final, symbolic spectacle illuminated by the last vestiges of the day’s dwindling light.
The still-twirling graduation caps hovered momentarily against the backdrop of the Pirelli Cable facility, one of Colusa County’s largest employers until it closed in 2003. It was against that backdrop, across a street named after the founder of Colusa, that 85 graduates threw their caps into the evening air, signifying the sun setting on their high school years and the dawning of the next phase of their lives.
The tossing of the caps was a simple act, common of commencement ceremonies, but it was also powerful symbol: a harbinger of the adventures and opportunities still ahead for the graduates, juxtaposed with an image of the community’s history and a reminder of what used to be. With a flick of their wrists, these torchbearers of the future – whether Colusa’s or otherwise – took the focus away from the defunct cable plant and what used to be, and instead shifted it to the promise and optimism for what is yet to come from the community’s most recent crop of high school graduates.
“One of my favorite quotes is from a businessman from India, who said, ‘If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to help them build theirs.’ My wish and hope for all you graduates is for you to sustain your dream, overcome those inevitable obstacles, and realize your potential,” Colusa High School Principal Darren Brown said in his opening remarks.
During her speech, Princeton University-bound salutatorian Alissa Selover described her class’ four-year journey through Colusa High, and the growth that she and her classmates experienced there. Selover also took time to thank teachers, parents, and classmates for their support, and asked her fellow graduates to remember their roots as they head out into the world.
“As I stand here right now, I cannot help but feel sad. In the fall, we will be leaving behind friends that have grown with us our entire lives, and people who know us better than we may even know ourselves,” Selover said, directing the comments toward her classmates. “I also can’t help but be extremely excited, because we are spreading our wings and leaving the small nest that worked so hard to build us. Never forget what it’s like to get stuck behind a tractor on your way to school, the smell of a barn on a hot May afternoon, and the memories that were made during your time at CHS.”
Based on their academic achievements, Colusa’s graduating class is flush with potential and offers plenty of reasons for optimism for the future.
A total of 33 members of Colusa’s 2017 graduating class (including Selover and valedictorian Adriana Abele) were wearing black and white stoles during the ceremony, which indicated those students had completed all “a-g” requirements, “making them immediately eligible for admission into the UCs and CSUs,” Brown said, adding that the pathway was established as a way to recognize students who wish to challenge themselves beyond the school’s graduation requirements.
Students were also recognized for participation in various school clubs, programs, and organizations.
During her speech, Abele – who is headed to UC San Diego in the fall to major in neuroscience – compared her class’ journey through high school to learning to pilot a rocket ship: Things started off a little shaky in freshman year, but she and her classmates had endured and overcome hardships – from unpleasant fights to poor test scores – on the way to becoming capable astronauts.
“So, after all this, you may be wondering: Why will I ever need to know the genus and phyla of a fruit fly? The answer: Discovery. You won’t need differential equations to do your taxes, but every lesson you’ve learned has expanded your horizon, and helped you to understand our beautiful universe,” Abele said.
“My wish for the Class of 2017 is that you’ll never stop learning. In 10 years, when you get off a nine-hour shift, I pray that you’ll stay up a little longer. Read ‘Arabian Nights,’ take French, or learn salsa. Amazing things can be accomplished from small learning moments, like a high school diploma or a lunar landing… Go forth into the world with curiosity in your mind, courage in your soul, and love in your hearts.”
Maxwell High School
At the top of her class, Maureen LaGrande addressed the graduating seniors both as president and valedictorian.
As president, LaGrande spoke of the 13 years most of the students have been together since kindergarten.
As valedictorian, LaGrande spoke of the future, and reminded her fellow graduates to be kind, grateful, be willing to change, laugh at themselves, and consider at some point they might be wrong.
“When you travel down those bumpy roads of life, buckle up and have faith in your abilities,” she said. “Live your life to the fullest and continue to move forward, for if you fall, don’t worry, the ground will be there to catch you. Stand up, brush yoursel off and march on.”
LaGrande plans to continue her education in the fall at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, with a major in agriculture communication. Mallory Mathis was the Maxwell High School salutatorian. She plans to attend Champman College in the fall to major in business adminstration and real estate. She earned the Chapman Dean Scholarship and a number of nearly 50 scholarships presented to the class on Friday.
Both LaGrande and Mathis were lifetime California Scholarship Federation members, and membes of FBLA and FFA.
Pierce High School
Family and friends awaited anxiously for Pierce High School graduates to receive their diplomas Friday night. Marked as the 119th class to graduate from the Pierce Joint Unified School District, the Class of 2017 was full of aspirations, and hope as they walked across the lawn at ol’Pierce High.
“I am proud to be part of the most extraordinarily, ordinary class graduating from Pierce High School,” said co-valedictorian Bryce Alonso as he opened his speech for the evening. “That may be a strange way to describe our class, but to our family, friends, and the faculty it makes perfect sense.”
Alonso recapped events throughout the year that he found to be most special, including getting help from a fellow classmate when his vehicle broke down, his time competing in FFA competitions, as well as other memorable events.
“When I think of my classmates and the paths they have choose, there are people that want to be in the military, law enforcement, education, fire fighting, agriculture, and even medicine. These may seem like ordinary and unrelated professions but if you really think about it they are all very giving and selfless which is the result of what our community has modeled for us,” said Alonso.
Co-valedictorian Cora Cherry also recalled her memories at Pierce High School and spoke to her classmates about following their dreams and read an excerpt from the Dr. Seuss book, ‘Oh the places you will go’.
“In these four years we have developed a bond that is unlike any other, that of a class,” said Cherry. “Although everyone will be following a different path, we all know that we always be a family.”
“Four years ago we dreamed about achieving our high school graduation,” said Cherry. “And tonight, we are dreaming of the paths that our future will take us on. Some of us, we dream of finding a career, or to find a person to give our heart to.”
Salvadorian Ellian ‘Ellie’ Geyer, took a moment to remember two students who lost their lives in 2015 in a wrong way, alcohol related event.
“Tonight we remember Alyssa and Brenda Santiago,” said Geyer. “Alyssa was a grade ahead of us and would have graduated last year. Brenda was a grade below us and would be anxiously awaiting to experience her senior year.”
After a moment of silence Geyer reminded her classmates that life can change in a moment and that we should all appreciate family and loved ones.
As the ceremony continued several scholarships were awarded, and the Pierce High School Golden Bear award was presented to Gary Henderson.
Princeton High School
Princeton High School may have had the smallest graduating class of all the high schools in Colusa County, but the eight graduates who received their diplomas each took the next big step in their lives at Friday night’s commencement ceremony.
“We came here as children, and now we will be leaving as adults. We’ve completed a high school education that we will use as a platform for the next steps in our lives,” said class valedictorian Sandra Franco. “Some of us will go on to college, while others will go straight into the workforce. Each of us will travel our own path, and no matter what we do, there will be changes in our future.”
Franco noted that the members of Princeton’s eight-person graduating class have plans that range from being a doctor, a veterinary assistant, or an ag-business major, to serving in the military.
“I know that each person from this class will keep going and not give up,” Franco said.
Salutatorian Emily Myers spoke about having a strong support system was crucial to the recent graduates’ successes.
“I’m glad my high school experience was in a small school, where everyone knows each other and we all have a memory together, where everyone is friends or acquaintances,” Myers said. “What I’m trying to say, is that we will remember mostly everyone in Priceton, because you all had a special impact on our lives.”
Williams High School
The Williams High School Class of 2017 marched across McCarl Field on Friday before a grandstand filled with family and friends.
Valedictorian Iqbal Grewal, an athlete and scholar, finished at the top of his class. Grewal started kindergarten in Williams but attended school in Hidden Valley from third through sixth grade, before returning to Williams Jr./Sr. High School. He plans to attend college in the fall to become a medical doctor.
Amrit Sahota was the class salutatorian. Sahota, also a high school athlete, served as the Associated Student Body liasian to the Williams Unified School District Board of Trustees. She, too, plans to attend college in the fall.