While the performing arts center at Castaic High School is quite sizeable with its 400 seats, the tight group of parents, family and friends of Sequoia School’s 2022 graduating class on Thursday morning gathered up close to the stage there for an intimate, heartfelt graduation ceremony.
Sequoia School, the smallest in the William S. Hart Union High School District, recognized 14 graduates this year. School staff members individually shared fond memories of each of the graduates, offering congratulations and a parting message. Others talked about how this particular class faced unique challenges.
“This is probably one of the graduating classes that’s overcome the most obstacles in the history of Sequoia, or any graduating class for that matter,” said Holly Cabuhat of Sequoia’s Educationally Related Intensive Counseling Services program, or ERICS, to the crowd. “Beyond the struggles of the pandemic, our graduating seniors have faced the loss of a campus that they called home, and also the loss of an incredible teacher and mentor.”
Sequoia had previously moved from its Centre Pointe Parkway campus in Santa Clarita to Castaic High School, and Fidel Garcia, a former U.S. Marine and teacher at Sequoia for 14 years, died last year. But Cabuhat said this graduating class picked themselves up and continued on. She added that Garcia was likely looking down at the group from above on Thursday, proud of each and every one of them for what they’d accomplished.
In remembrance of Garcia, this year, the Santa Clarita Valley Scholarship Foundation gave, among several scholarships, what they’re now calling the Fidel Garcia Memorial Scholarship of $1,000 to Gwendolyn Hurley. Other scholarships went to Ezekiel Woodin-Stockert, George M. Chavez III and Theodore Nava.
Staff members spoke of the wide range of passions this graduating class had, from interests in creative arts, politics and world affairs, to those in sports, fashion, the military and even dinosaurs. The graduating seniors of 2022 were reminded to follow their dreams.
Student speaker Theodore Nava said that, over the past four years, he and his fellow graduates had made special bonds with fellow students and teachers alike, bonds that’ll stay with him and others for the rest of their lives.
“The people I’ve met, the things I’ve learned and the opportunities I’ve been given,” Nava said, “so many things have created me today. I believe that everything you learn in high school is important — in the classroom and out of it.”
He talked about Sequoia staff and classmates being a second family to him, how they created a safe place for him on the campus, especially helpful in times when he felt he wouldn’t make it.
“I think that leaving everyone is going to be the hard part,” Nava continued. But, quoting former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, he offered to his fellow graduates, “With a new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”
Sequoia staff echoed those sentiments, sharing with individual students their strengths and advice specifically for each of them. Counselor Lizbeth Benavides reminded Danya Barber-Quinonez of the letter she once wrote to herself as part of an assignment to stay positive. Remember that advice, Benavides told her, in times when you hit a bump in the road.
Home study teacher Robert Frechette said that Randy Garcia didn’t even want to go to his own graduation. Frechette had previously told Garcia that his graduation wasn’t about him, he said, but about his family. Garcia was there. And when he received his diploma, he looked it over with what seemed like pride, and he clapped for all his fellow graduates, seemingly proud of them, too.
Other words of wisdom to graduates included one piece of advice from staff member Stacey Matthews, who told Jasmin Jimenez that “whenever someone is doubting how far you can go, go so far that you can’t hear them anymore.”
The class of 2022 appeared up to the task when they turned their tassels to the left and stood up for a round of applause.
Sequoia graduates this year are David Aronson, Dakota Baker, Danya Barber-Quinonez, George M. Chavez III, Randy Garcia, Christian Hernandez, Martin Hernandez, Jacob Hill, Gwendolyn Hurley, Jasmin Jimenez, Theodore Nava, Jordan Pierre, Remy Rietta and Ezekiel Woodin-Stockert. Valedictorian honors went to Hurley and salutatorian honors went to Nava.
The ceremony fittingly closed with a slide show, displaying pictures of students with their classmates in school and on trips, and other shots with their families at home from when they were babies up to present day. And like you might experience in a close setting with family and friends in someone’s living room, staff showed off “home videos” that students made in school that had some in the auditorium in cheers and others in tears. All looked happy for the students in their lives.