Anyone who may have thought a Harry Potter-themed Grad Night might be lost on San Marino High School’s graduating class of 2018 had better think again. Though the motifs are chosen through a vote by the students themselves, some felt the franchise could be too tween for those about to head off to higher education. Proving themselves to be wise in the ways of the world as well as book-smart, however, the grads seemed to thoroughly grasp the many lessons provided by the historic works of author J.K. Rowling, which chronicle the lives of a young wizard and his friends as they meander through a highly pedigreed school.
Students strive to distinguish themselves from the tribes which precede and follow them, and while the Class of 2019 has accomplished much in the classroom and on the fields and stages, San Marino High School’s recent graduates will leave a legacy of gratitude.
Starry-eyed upon first sight of the elaborate Grad Night set, the young people spent their final eight hours wrapped in a warm embrace of a community to which they have given much, but received even more.
“Graduation and Grad Night were both such unforgettable, fun, and bittersweet events where I was so happy to spend time with everyone from the Class of 2019 for the last time,” said Erina Widjaja, who is headed to USC. “By the end of Grad Night, I couldn’t stop crying realizing that it was all over, and I just wanted to thank San Marino for shaping the person I’ve become in the past 13 years.”
Katherine Choi, who was one of three students chosen to speak at last Friday’s graduation ceremony and afterwards, told The Tribune it was “surreal.”
“Honestly I’m experiencing a mix of emotions,” said Choi, who is headed to Georgia Tech. “Sad because I’m leaving a place I called home for all these years, but also excited for the things to come.”
Boulder-bound Tommy Long said it was “a magical way to wrap up four years.”
School Board President Lisa Link started the evening’s speeches off by reminding the assemblage of this community’s special nature.
“You are fortunate to have gone to school at San Marino High School,” Link said. “You are among the best-prepared high school students in California and this country, and you will soon appreciate that advantage. You have had excellent teachers and coaches who taught you how to think and improve your skills, counselors and administrators who guided your academic and personal growth, and support staff who ensured that everything ran well and that the campus was clean.”
Link reminded graduates that “there aren’t many communities that line the streets during the Homecoming parade and the Fourth of July parade. Or where you graduate with the same people who you went to Kindergarten with. Or where you can’t get away with anything because everyone in town knows everyone else.”
“Where else do parents and community members come together for six months and donate thousands of hours and dollars to create the biggest, best, and most unbelievable party that you’ll ever attend…the Magical World of Harry Potter Grad Night?” Link said as the audience, at her behest, cheered Grad Night chairs Donna Balbin, Jennifer Giles and Helen Spitzer.
Principal Dr. Issaic Gates encouraged his grads to not be afraid of failure.
“Inherently, everyone wants to be successful,” Gates said. “However, most folks are not willing to fail at attempting to be successful because the comfort zone feels so good. In your
comfort zone, you’ve calculated the cost, you control the environment, you see the entire spectrum of potential outcomes, you know what you are capable of, you are safe. Safe.”
He then asked if there “any future dream makers out there; any world changers; any folks who can find that ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.’”
“Can I talk to you for a moment?” Gates said, his voice dropping in dramatic anticipation. “To you, I say ‘go ahead, color outside the lines. Walk to the beat of your drum, create your own brand of SWAG, become a movement, be an energy. You’ve already realized that both success and failure fall in the same category, they are only tools to use when making your next attempt. Failure is a tool designed to move you in a different direction. Success is a tool designed to encourage you to move forward.”
Choi was joined by fellow seniors Alyssa Escamilla, who will enroll at American University, and USC-bound Grant Spitzer for their farewell address. Choi also tapped into the theme of failure as a necessary path to redemption.
“When we’re at rock-bottom, we cease to recognize opportunities, feeling flooded with despair,” she said. “We begin to see our situation as the conclusion to our story, dropping our pens in defeat after one bad chapter.”
She then invoked the teachings of Professor Dumbledore, one of Harry Potter’s most beloved characters and the headmaster of Hogwarts.
“But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light,” Choi said, quoting Dumbledore.
Escamilla, who served an unprecedented two terms as the ASB representative to the San Marino School Board, also quoted Dumbledore, reminding her classmates that “the grind don’t stop for no one, baby” before offering that “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
“Help is valuable,” said Escamilla as herself. “Help is patient. Help is kind. No one does it alone.”
Among his brilliant contributions to the speech, Spitzer quoted “the wise words of street poet and this generation’s Shakespeare, Kanye West; ‘reach for the stars so if you fall, you land among the clouds; jump in the crowd, spark your lighters, wave ‘em around.’”
And then it was off to exactly that, minus the lighters, as the Class of 2019 said headed to Grad Night and enjoyed the final time they will all ever be in the same room together.