by Mitch Lehman
Grad night themes come and Grad Night themes go, but if there was ever one that defined the San Marino High School graduation class for which it was intended, well, ‘Toy Story’ and ‘2013’ are a match made in heaven.
A heart-tugging big screen trilogy relating the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a collection of mostly outdated children’s’ playthings, the storyline fit the group of young people who said their Titan goodbyes last Friday night like tracing paper.
No one more so than graduate Sofia Tam, who has bravely fought recurring illness, leading her classmates to the commencement arena, wheeled in her chair by the hands three supportive classmates.
After all, when you peel away the slick computer-generated characters and remarkable references to bygone eras, ‘Toy Story’ is, at its heart, a tale about taking care of one another in times of need.
This class certainly got that lesson right and last Friday’s graduation, kissed and hugged by a Chamber of Commerce day, was a celebration of young people who truly “get it.”
“Today, I want to give you three pieces of advice as you step forward into the future,” said school board President Joseph Chang, who noted that he was first elected to the board when the Class of ‘13 was entering elementary school.
“I hope you will appreciate those around you,” said Chang. “In light of the terrible occurrences in Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Boston Bombing and [last Friday’s] Santa Monica College shooting, we know the world can be a dangerous place. While this has been an unpredictable year outside of San Marino, I urge you to appreciate your wonderful community. You are lucky to be supported by your friends and family, so give your family a hug after grad night. Especially now it’s the most important time to cherish your family and friends.”
Chang also encouraged the grads to “find out the stories of those around you” and “set goals, the stepping stones of life.”
Superintendent Loren Kleinrock encouraged the blue and white clad to consider “those things didn’t quite turn out the way you hoped.”
“Were there things you could have done differently?” Kleinrock queried. “Did you do everything you reasonably could to give yourself the best possible chance to succeed?”
He then mentioned a past professor who said “most people who don’t reach their goals fail because they don’t do the things they know they need to do to be successful.”
“The difference between success and failure is often a small margin and, oftentimes, it is not talent or ability that makes the difference; it is perseverance and work ethic,” the superintendent said. “Many people don’t understand that doing just a little more than the next guy can make a big difference.”
“Sometimes we’re afraid to really lay ourselves out because we might fail and others might criticize us,” he concluded. “If we don’t really try our hardest, we can always console ourselves with the idea that we could have succeeded IF we’d only tried our best. It takes courage to succeed in anything truly important because of the risk that you might not succeed and others may label you a failure. It takes courage to be the best you can when others settle for mediocrity.”
Two of the most prolific speakers in San Marino High School history – Kalyn Chang and Jonathan Sheu, each a member of the school’s award-winning speech and debate program – delivered their final high school address in call-and-response form.
“We arrived in August of 2009, a fresh shipment from the Henry E. Huntington Toy Factory,” said Chang.
“Life was a little less complicated,” Sheu responded. “The biggest changes on our minds were being again the youngest students on campus, larger lockers, and the freedom – to eat lunch anywhere on campus.”
Chang: “Even so, many of us wanted to stay in our boxes. Our identities were as insecure as Mr. Potato Head’s body parts.”
Sheu: “But we had the courage to cast away the packaging peanuts.”
They paid homage to many of their now-former teachers, placing their personae in familiar ‘Toy Story’ roles, talking about “Mrs. [Barbara] Barbarics’ pop quizzes, Mr. Zucchini Man’s test curves, Dr. Nancy Beagle explaining what poems are really about and Kevin Hall imploring the students to not be so full of…hot air!”
“But we learned to grow up, put aside our rivalries, and come together, knowing that – A good soldier never leaves a man behind!” they said in unison, grasping the theme of the evening. “When we thought all was lost, our toymates rescued us. We promised each other that we would be brave, and kind, and smart. We promised that we would never give up on each other…ever. To be there for our toymates, no matter what.”
Principal Keith Derrick spent most of his address reminding the graduates and standing room-only audience how truly special their accomplishments have been throughout the school year.
“On August 22, the first day of school, our theme for the year was revealed: Proud to Be a Titan,” Derrick said. “After reflecting on the year, we are certainly proud to be Titans. Class of 2013 – You represented the school’s mission to enhance the 3 A’s…academics, arts and athletics. You have been instrumental in making San Marino High School one of the top public high schools in the nation.”
Derrick then went through a laundry list of plaudits and rankings, including the top unified school district in the state of California as well as top rankings by national publications.
“It is quite obvious, Class of 2013. Not only did you excel in the classroom but also outside the classroom. We are certainly Proud to Be Titans and you are to applauded. Great schools are a function of their students, teachers, parents, and community we are honored and humbled to have all of you gathered together tonight to celebrate the Class of 2013.”
Then it was off to Grad Night – then infinity, now…beyond.
Following a catered dinner from Wolfgang Puck and entertainment from two of the finest in their fields, graduate Bradley Haslam – soon to be entering the United States Air Force Academy – was spotted near the foam-filled ‘sandbox,’ surrounded by classmates and happy coeds alike.
“Think the Academy will be like this, Bradley?” he was asked. “Catered dinners, magic shows and play pits full of friends?”
“Probably not,” he said, laughing, redoubling his efforts to pelt his classmates.
It may have been the last time any of them will truly play…
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