As Laguna Beach High School’s graduating seniors paraded into the Irvine Bowl last week through evergreen arches held aloft by younger versions of themselves, there was a sense of achievement that went beyond their academic accomplishments.
Whether a relative, friend or teacher of the graduates, their commencement seemed a living testament to what youth can achieve amid a nurturing community. As senior speaker Wyatt Fair pointed out, “Haven’t the most memorable successes happened with the help of others?”
A similar thread ran through remarks of other speakers, though each speech was unique and insightful and expressed appreciation for friends and supporters.
In highlighting seven terms relevant to the occasion, science teacher Jennifer Merritt, who gave the graduate address, spoke of grace and gratitude, encouraging the young adults to remember unwarranted kindnesses, and to never overlook expressing gratitude.
Principal Don Austin reminded students that the critical feedback they had received over the years reflected that someone cared enough to correct them.
Giving speeches laced with literary and cultural references, valedictorian Bianca Sganga and Wyatt were both nostalgic about the chapter they were closing; appreciative of all they had learned; and full of excitement, laced with a little trepidation, about the possibilities unfolding before them.
Considering the countless decisions, career choices and responsibilities facing her, Bianca said that she related to Philip Carey, the protagonist in Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage,” who found himself overwhelmed by what lay ahead. A wise friend told Carey that answers about life’s meaning could be found in a Persian carpet, an analogy Bianca found appropriate.
High school seemed like a corner of an intricate carpet, she said, with moments like the physics boat race, a homecoming pep rally, and hours spent translating Spanish providing the threads that together weave a pattern from fears, frustrations, hopes and joys of four years.
Would her generation find the cure for cancer, a way to fight global warming, solve the conflict in the Middle East? The “answer to what our lives will be will work out as we weave the rest of our Persian carpet,” she said.
Wyatt admitted he was unsure about the next step and sought solace in middle-school memories when Juicy Couture was the fashion and choco-tacos ruled. Even so, his comments proved he had given the future much thought.
Though his classmates’ interests fragmented in high school, he was gladdened by a unifying moment that took place in the quad on the last day of school where students formed a sort of dance train and sang the Hebrew folk song “Hava Nagila,” which fittingly translates to “let’s rejoice.”
Wyatt urged classmates to cherish their friendships and to disregard GPA or salary, society’s means of measuring success. Relying on a 1993 article, “A Brief Version of Time,” Wyatt quoted its author, Alan Lightman, who described fictional people that never die known as the “Nows” and “Laters.” Where the Laters enjoy each moment believing everything will come in its time, the Nows want to do everything right away. In Lightman’s scenario, both can be happy because they live forever, though youth are forever overshadowed by ancestors.
“We are blessed with a limited amount of time,” said Wyatt, of his peer’s chance to make the future their own. His summation borrowed from the Coldplay song, “Life in Technicolor ii”: “Gravity release me; And don’t ever hold me down; Now my feet won’t touch the ground.”
As Austin honored the career of retiring teacher Peter Tiner, there was a sense of the community circle being completed. Mentored by art teacher and football coach Hal Akins and an LBHS graduate himself, Tiner returned to mentor generations of his own students. The class of 2011 gave him a standing ovation.
In closing, Austin, departing for a top administrative post in Huntington Beach, said he would indulge in “the things we think and do not say.” referencing Tom Cruise’s character in “Jerry McGuire,”
He told students that since life lacks guarantees, they shouldn’t wait to say or do what’s in their heart. And, emphatically, he implored students to use the crosswalk.