Five hundred and seventy-eight Saugus High School Centurions walked across the graduation stage on Wednesday, showing the packed College of the Canyons stadium what it meant to be a Centurion and “Saugus strong.”
Saugus students dressed in blue and white robes made their way to their seats accompanied by “Pomp and Circumstance” performed by the Saugus High School concert band.
The students’ seats were accompanied by three empty ones.
One seat for Gracie Muehlberger. One seat for Dominic Blackwell. One seat for Isaac Boston.
Muehlberger and Blackwell died on Nov. 14, 2019, when a 16-year-old Saugus student opened fire on the Saugus quad and shot five fellow students – fatally wounding Muehlberger and Blackwell — and then took his own life.
Boston died on Aug. 8, 2021, due to a fentanyl overdose.
Each seat was accommodated with a cap, gown, flowers and a picture of each student.
“As a freshman class, you rushed on to campus in the heat of August full of anticipation, nervousness and excitement,” said Saugus Principal Genevieve Peterson Henry. “Before you could learn what it meant to be a Centurion, we experienced the unthinkable, and in an instant, our lives were changed forever and we lost two of our own. You were forced to face and work through thoughts and feelings that we all wish we could have protected you from in the midst of your anger and sadness.”
Despite going through the unimaginable, the students came back to campus.
The Saugus graduating class of 2023 was then faced with another unimaginable – a global pandemic in March 2020.
“As sophomores and juniors, a world pandemic tried to push you back, but that didn’t stop you,” said Henry.
Once again, the students came back to campus.
Out of the 578 students, 221 graduated with honors, 117 graduated having completed Career Technical Education Pathway, 87 graduated as members of the National Honors Society, 87 graduated as members of the California Scholarship Federation and 32 graduated as California sealed applied literacy recipients.
Their hard work and perseverance went beyond academic achievements.
“We’re going to receive our diploma, or at least a temporary one that will more than likely say something to the effect of, ‘We have satisfactorily completed a course of study required by the board of education,’” said Mia Page-Tretta, a student speaker and one of the five shot on Nov. 14, 2019. “That leaves out quite a lot of our high school experience, doesn’t it? Those of us who were Centurions when the shooting happened in our quad on Nov. 14, 2019, know something different, don’t we?”
“So when you get your real diploma and you look at it, know that what it took for you to get here was a hell of a lot more than just satisfactory,” said Page-Tretta.
Saugus students walked across the stage, shook the hands of William S. Hart Union High School District staff members, and grabbed their diplomas.
One by one, but together.
“This time we have together right now is so important,” said student speaker Connor Gilbertson.
Each student left the stage marking a moment of triumph in their life and leaving their principal with a lesson.
“Thank you for teaching us that joy and sorrow exist simultaneously,” said Henry.
The families of Muehlberger, Blackwell and Boston walked across the stage as their children’s names were called. Each family accepted the honorary diploma, met by thundering applause.
Teresa Boston, mother of Isaac Boston, said that she almost backed out of being a part of the ceremony. She is glad that she didn’t. She can now still say that Isaac got his diploma.
The flying of caps in the air marked the end of four years that can only be best described as indescribable.
“On this night, as a major milestone in each of our own stories, but even more than that, all of us sitting out here in the COC football stadium, we’re here together right now, for the last time,” said Gilbertson. “I love you guys.”