Under a cloudless sky with a cool breeze that rustled graduation cap tassels, South Pasadena High School’s class of 2019 celebrated their graduation ceremony on Wednesday, June 5, in a spirit of reflection, appreciation for the community and bold encouragement for the future.
Valedictorian Natalie Deng, one of seven valedictorians of the class, led the speeches by encouraging her classmates, all 362 set to graduate, to lean into the balance of building their own life puzzles. In her speech “Puzzles & Cheez-Its,” she noted that high school felt like trying to work on a puzzle without knowing that the final image would look like.
“We’re all just building our own puzzles and we’re all just confidently guessing,” Deng told the assembled crowd of family, friends and faculty that filled the high school stadium. “So if someone tries to intimidate you into thinking otherwise, don’t let them.”
She shared that their puzzles are far from finished and their path doesn’t end with graduation.
“From this day on, go forward in life and pursue what fulfills you because you have come too far and eaten too many Cheez-Its to let some jerk tell you now that you puzzle doesn’t look right or that you’re building it too slowly because you have come this far, so why not go further?” expressed Deng.
Deng then welcomed Associated Student Body Coordinator Rachel Lu, who addressed the gathered assembly with her speech “Our Last ‘End of an Era.’”
“South Pas has always been described to me as my last—last move, last school district, last chance to call somewhere my hometown,” said Lu. “Thinking back, given the bubble-like small town nature of South Pas, I couldn’t fathom how I would fit. South Pas welcomed me.”
Lu warmly also shared memories from the school and from the city, like running into familiar faces along the streets, admiring the peacocks and the “absurd per capita” of pizza places and massage parlors, which drew many laughs from the crowd.
“With the constant echoes from people far older and wiser than myself of how high school was the best time of their lives combined with the views of the real world we are entering, graduation might feel like the last of something wonderful, and that’s okay because it has been,” continued Lu. “From this point on, we have the opportunity to do what we’ve been told we’ve been preparing to do since kindergarten: pursue our passions and quote uquote change the world. But before we do, I hope we will all continue to celebrate the era we’ve shared as this class.”
Lu then introduced fellow classmate and valedictorian Lauren Kafkaloff, who focused on cherishing the days of life and appreciating them in the moment in her speech “Counting Up The Days.”
“We’ll be looking back at the many days that we let fly by without a second thought, the days we wished were longer and the weeks we wished were shorter,” said Kafkaloff. “It all fueled a waiting game that I subconsciously played that I looked too far in the future to truly appreciate the days flying by.”
Over the summer, she encouraged her classmates to “look like you’re going somewhere” as her own mother encouraged her, do bucketlist activities and start a hobby they’ve been thinking about.
“You don’t need to count down the days to make the memories count,” Kafkaloff shared. “Whether you’re heading up the coast, across the country or around the world, all of your memories will be rooted in this beautiful city of trees…We have so much ahead of us and I can’t wait to see where we end up.”
Kafkaloff ended her speech to cheers and enthusiastic applause from the entire class of 2019 and all gathered to salute their collective accomplishment in reaching graduation day.
Photos by Henk Friezer, Skye Hannah, and Joseph Ruiz.