Palo Alto High School’s graduating class gathered for the first and last time this school year earlier today, celebrating the end to an unprecedented senior year and the culmination of an untraditional high school journey with a graduation ceremony in Viking Stadium.
As parents found their seats in COVID-19-safe “pods,” Paly’s symphonic band crooned with both energetic and pensive melodies, setting the tone for a bittersweet evening.
Bright green robes covering their clothes, decorated caps on their heads and masks obscuring their faces, graduates filed into their seats to “Pomp and Circumstance” played by the band as the crowd of over 2,000 parents looked on in anticipation.
Outgoing Associated Student Body President Avantika Singh began the evening with a welcoming speech, followed by a performance of “Happy Together” by the band and an a cappella rendition of “Hey Brother” by Folk Yes, a student singing collective.
Senior speaker Jonathan Sneh followed this host of welcome activities with an address towards the graduating class.
“It has been a crazy four years, especially the last bit,” Sneh said. “But being back on campus, looking out into the crowd and seeing all of your faces makes me so happy.”
“Whether you stayed home or came to campus, you kept Paly alive. … I am thankful for all of you in the class of 2021 that maintained it and sustained it and never let it go away.”
— Brent Kline, principal
Sneh’s speech was followed by the recognition of United States Naval Academy recruit Andrew Bernas, a pre-recorded performance by the Paly choirs and an address by principal Brent Kline.
“Stop, just this minute, and … breathe this in,” Kline said. “We finally made this moment together. We’re here in-person for the very first time this entire school year.”
Kline emphasized the enduring spirit of the Class of 2021, even during the most trying times.
“Whether you stayed home or came to campus, you kept Paly alive,” Kline said. “I am thankful for all of you in the Class of 2021 that maintained it and sustained it and never let it go away.”
Kline concluded his address with a tribute to the Class of 2020.
“I hope you are grateful for being able to sit here in the stadium, six feet apart, with your four family members in pods a hundred feet away,” Kline said. “The class of 2020 never got that.”
“Don’t view graduation as closure, view it as a chapter in an unfinished book, waiting for the next chapter to begin.”
— Pooja Akella, former ASB president
In homage to last year’s graduating class, Kline invited the Class of 2020’s ASB president Pooja Akella and former senior class president Frida Rivera to speak.
“Graduation traditionally represents the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next … and typically we view this event as closure,” Akella said. “Don’t view graduation as closure, view it as a chapter in an unfinished book, waiting for the next chapter to begin.”
Akella and Rivera’s speech was followed by the figurative “presentation of diplomas,” without diplomas or handshakes to ensure COVID-19 safety. Graduates walked across the stage one-by-one, accompanied by energetic applause from the audience and their peers.
The ceremony concluded with an address by Senior Class President Emma Lin and the traditional tossing of caps.
“I think we have done a wonderful job focusing on the silver linings of this pandemic, and I am truly grateful for the time I have been able to spend with you all in-person these past few weeks,” Lin said. “Class of 2021, I’ll keep my expectations low and my hopes high for you all.”