Anzar High School in San Juan Bautista has been described as special and unique, but to discover just how different it is, you need to attend a graduation.
On Thursday June 14, 84 members of the 2018 senior class received their diplomas in the school gymnasium. Each student entered the gym individually, to music that they chose. Some danced in; some skipped; some shared high fives with their friends and teachers; some walked proudly to their seats beside the stage. All were cheered and appreciated. That’s part of the tradition.
“All of the teachers here…have been more than teachers," said Janette Amezcua, senior class speaker. "To us they have become family.”
Where else but at Anzar High would students refer to their senior female adviser teachers as second mothers? Where else but at Anzar High would those advisers be embraced by their students in a group hug? Where else but at Anzar High would a male adviser teacher play his own rock music and dance through the crowd?
That was instructor Greg Braithwaite. “I always wanted to do this,” he said.
Braithwaite told graduates he advised that he didn’t think he could get through a live speech, so he began to play a recorded speech. But it turned out to be a comedic introduction to a heartfelt live address.
He faced his advisory students, who stood as he talked, and said achievements at high school are not real.
“What people care about is that you’re a good person," Braithwaite said. "That’s what’s important in this world. Also being kind and helping others. I just want you to become good people and be a kind and caring person. You make me a better person."
There were no long-winded speeches at the early summer graduation. Students spoke from the heart and thanked those who helped them through four years of high school.
Senior Adviser Katie Deckelmann gave an emotional talk about how she woke up at night worrying about her students’ grades and their presentations. She spoke about how Anzar High students warmly accepted her when she came to the school.
“The meaning of life is to find your gift," Deckelmann said. "And the purpose of life is to give it away.”
Every graduating senior sat with a bouquet of flowers under their chair, another tradition at Anzar High. During the commencement, they were told to present the flowers to people who had loved and supported them. The seniors presented bouquets to parents, friends, and even teachers.
Class Valedictorian Skylar Seyffert and Salutatorians Destiny Hansen and Luis Morales Aguirre spoke together at the podium.
“I truly believe you are all going to do extraordinary things,” Seyffert told her fellow grads.
“This class is really like family,” Morales Aquirre said.
“You’ve all played an important part in the lives of others,” Hansen said. “I’m proud to be a member of the class of 2018. I love you guys.”
Senior Carmen Sahagun transferred to Anzar High from another high school, but said she was immediately accepted by other students.
“I don’t even know how to explain how special these people are to my left and my right,” Sahagun said.
Principal Charlene McKowen welcomed the audience and asked all parents to stand and be appreciated.
Students at Anzar High work harder than those at other high schools, McKowen said. They do hours and hours of service and complete four GradEx presentations, which are in-depth reports related to their studies.
This past year, students held a walkout to protest school shootings across the United States, McKowen said. They registered to vote, lifted school spirit, pushed for greater attendance at school sports events, and planned monthly adviser meetings with school freshmen.
“This class of 2018 has barely begun to show their power, and I’m proud of them," McKowen said. "Congratulations to the class of 2018.”