The Irvine Bowl at the Festival of Arts grounds was filled to the brim last week when parents, other family members and friends turned out to watch 256 seniors graduate from high school.
The sky sparkled with stars, the temperature was mild, rare at the bowl even later in the summer. The high school band, directed by Jeremy Chung, set a traditional mood with “Pomp and Circumstance,” the graduation march composed by Edward Elgar. The most hoots and hollers, even the bleat of a bullhorn, came from the crowd standing in the nosebleed section. Assistant high school principal Bob Billinger served as a very professional-sounding master of ceremonies.
Joanne Culverhouse, high school principal for the past three years, has watched most of the graduates grow since their first day of school as she rose in the school district’s administrative ranks. She started with the district as El Morro Elementary principal in 1999. She became principal at Thurston Middle School five years later, where she made it a point to greet every child as they arrived at school. An avid cyclist, she’s gained notoriety with her students for her ability to ride a unicycle, and has been known to cruise around on one at school events.
“My thoughts come back to the unique bond I have with this class of 2014,” Culverhouse said in her closing speech with a voice clearly stretched from end-of-school activities. “In a small community such as ours, there are very few principals who have had the good fortune to transition with their students from grade level to grade level.”
Rory Saunders, class valedictorian, kept the mood of the evening buoyant and yet somewhat serious. “You are about to graduate from Laguna Beach High School, the greatest high school in all of Laguna Beach,” Saunders joked about the only high school in town. He then acknowledged Billinger, describing him as “our kind and understanding disciplinarian…not.”
The crowd was in for a few more barbs and plenty of laughs courtesy of Saunders. He even threw out a few innuendos, leaving those not-in-the-know wondering if he was a bit bitter about being dissed by a former girlfriend. He then brought his slightly off-key tenor down to reality.
“My goal tonight is to get through this lengthy speech without a voice-crack, but, as many of you know, I hit puberty late last year. I’m not going to make any promises,” he said. “I don’t consider myself particularly profound nor particularly experienced. Yes, my GPA was narrowly higher than all the guys on the tennis team, but I’m not going to pretend to be some prophet who will shape your life with a moving speech.”
Saunders said he thought about writing a speech that would “plumb the depths of the human condition to inspire all of you,” but took the more humble approach of just being another high-schooler “who has absolutely no idea what life is about….
“To be a member of this class has been enlightening, frustrating and everything in between. The ups and downs and lefts and rights of high school jarred me, shocked me and ultimately matured me. In sum, the last four years have been quite a ride. I’m glad to have shared this experience with the extraordinary young men and women sitting in front of me.”
Jim Garvey, Spanish teacher, English language development teacher and boys’ JV basketball coach, gave the Graduate Address, and was clearly emotional.
“As the students are graduating this year, so are two beloved friends and colleagues of mine.” Garvey noted retiring teachers Rod Ortiz, who is leaving the district after 27 years, and Joanie McKnight, who is taking an early retirement and continuing with a lawsuit, alleging unfair treatment by administrators. Our school is losing over 70 years of experience between the two of them….I love you guys,” he said, choking back tears.
He continued by thanking his students for “picking me up and helping me through the loss of my mom and her illness through the month of March.” A photo of Garvey with his mom at his college graduation was projected behind him. He then told the students to follow four lines in a rope:
G: Give of yourself.
A: attitude over aptitude.
I: initiative; it won’t go unnoticed.
L: Love; “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
His mother’s name was Gail.
Culverhouse concluded by using doors as a metaphor, recalling how she opened classroom doors and car doors for each of her students over the years. “Our shared experiences allowed me to see into many of your hearts and, many, into your minds. You have grown into the caring and compassionate individuals who now sit before me. You learned the lessons well in elementary and middle school: always share, play well with others and treat everyone with kindness.”
The 2014 graduates are:
Adams, Anna Marie
Bo, Nina *
Castillo Alonso, Maria
Cosby Braselle, Clay
De La Rosa, Andres
Demilly Otteson, Nadia
Donahie, Paul Michel
La Tendresse, Cody
Ladislao Ramirez, Vincent
Rackemann Smith, Ryan
Rand Luby, Cameron
Saunders, Rory Scharf, Marielle
Von Schimpf, Karl
Wollam, John Paul