Parents, family members, friends and school administrators gathered Friday night for a special event at PayPal Park in San Jose to watch Los Altos High School's class of 2021 graduate in person.
"Although we are not gathered at 201 Almond Avenue on Tom Burt Field, we are here together and that is something to truly celebrate," principal Wynne Satterwhite said in her commencement speech.
The 18,000-seat stadium, home to the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team, is oversized for a class of 553 graduates, even with social distancing in mind. About 2,000 people attended the ceremony. But family members and staff were grateful to see students perform the traditional walk with ceremonial diplomas in hand.
"I'm so happy and feel blessed," said Veronica Cibrian, who watched her son Dylan Martinez Cibrian walk the field. "I was worried because I thought the graduation was going to be like last year. It was so sad for all those students because they didn't have a ceremony. I was like, 'Oh my god, I hope my son's graduation is going to be something more fun.'"
For Isabelle Kokona-Dussau, a Los Altos High School alumni who watched her younger brother Ettian Kokona-Dussau walk the field, it was a completely different sight from her own ceremony in 2016. But the essentials of the commemorating day were still there.
"They got to walk across the stage, hear their names and 'Pomp and Circumstance' — that's all that matters," Isabelle Kokona-Dussau, a Los Altos High School alumni who watched her younger brother Ettian Kokona-Dussau walk across the field.
Students in their commencement address to their peers recognized how the night's gathering was a stark reminder of the challenges they faced in the past year.
"As we sit beside each other today, it's hard not to be reminded that we haven't been all together for over a year," graduating senior Jessica Dooley said. "We have overcome far more than many graduating classes before us."
Amanda Le, the student speaker of the night, acknowledged that the way her peers handled the past 15 months, from wildfires and gun violence to taking on climate change issues and systemic racism, proved that the class of 2021 "does not sit on the sidelines."
"Our time at Los Altos taught us to march out, speak up and refuse to accept things the way they are," Le said.
And with the pandemic that brought physical distancing and remote learning, Le said her class learned more than previous graduates about the importance of protecting others around them and how the future is filled with uncertainty.
"Being a high schooler during a pandemic taught us that we can't predict the future and we can't take any memory for granted. In the face of these obstacles, we are resilient, we are optimistic, we are the class of fighters," she said.