For the first time since 2019, William S. Hart Union High School District graduating classes gathered together on Wednesday, dressed in their celebratory caps and gowns, and walked the stage to accept their high school diplomas.
Kicking off this year’s round of graduations, Learning Post Academy and Golden Oak Adult School held their graduations in-person and across the street from one another at Rancho Pico and West Ranch, respectively.
Bowman High School’s graduating class became the first graduating class of 2021 to walk across the stage on College of the Canyons football field, a usual rite of passage for Hart District graduating seniors that was not available to the Class of 2020 as a result of COVID-19.
For all graduations, district officials said they had planned for weeks in advance to ensure that the spectators and participants in each graduation were following both state and county health guidelines.
Bowman’s graduation would become the prototype for how the next weeks’ worth of graduations would occur, with students and families being separated from one another at an appropriate distance in their predetermined seating areas. Masks were required by all those in attendance, unless they were speaking at the podium.
During the Bowman High ceremony, the student speakers noted how, even in the midst of a global pandemic and all of the hurdles already placed before them that resulted in them taking an alternative route with regard to their education, they were still able to call themselves “graduates.”
“Everyone here has a story about how they came to Bowman,” said the Bulldogs’ first class speaker, Christopher Rojas. “During my freshman year, my family had a very unfortunate event, and we had to go into a domestic violence shelter, causing me to miss a semester and changing who I was in general.”
Rojas said that going into his sophomore year, even before the pandemic had physically taken him out of the classroom, he had already mentally checked out on his schooling. Bowman, he said, changed that and, after thanking the teachers and staff at his school for showing him that he could be “unstoppable” in his pursuit of graduating early, he concluded his speech by applauding his mom.
“Mom, you told me every day: ‘Todo pasa por una razón’ — everything happens for a reason,” said Rojas, while standing center stage before his classmates and educators in his cap and gown.
After hearing from the remaining class speakers, including graduate Caitlin Chase — who said she made the decision in November 2020 to complete her high school education after watching “her future collapse in front of (her) eyes” while living on her own in South Central Los Angeles from the age of 14-16 — Bowman High Principal Nina Zamora returned to the podium to speak through the tears in her eyes.
The principal would take a moment to gather herself before announcing that the recipient of the 2021 Anything is Possible Award would be given to Chase. The award has been distributed every year at Bowman High since 1987 and is given to a student who “perseveres against tremendous challenges.”
“For all of you tonight, your diploma represents earning the Anything is Possible Award already,” Zamora said just before announcing Chase as the recipient of the final award of the night. “As educators, we aim to have a positive impact on our students; however, there are often times a student has an impact on us.”
“And this person,” Zamora added, in reference to the student who overcame a trajectory of dying on the streets by returning to school for the first time since 2018 and during a global pandemic, “has had an impact on me.”
In total, 150 Bowman students graduated on Wednesday, and many had already announced their plans to continue their education at higher institutions.
Learning Post Academy, which held its ceremony at the Rancho Pico auditorium, saw 83 of their students walk, 57 of whom with honors, and a number had already committed themselves to attend COC or one of the University of California or Cal State University schools.
Of the 54 adult graduates at Golden Oak Adult School between the Classes of 2020 and 2021, 21 participated in the ceremony held on the West Ranch campus.