Blast from the Past: The Class of 2021 graduates

On June 3, the 90 graduates in the Class of 2021 did not drive up in their cars awaiting their high school diploma like the Class of 2020 did. Instead, graduates sat in the stands at PayPal Park and walked the stage to receive their “passport to the future.”

Graduates descend the stadium’s stairs to receive their diplomas. (Photo by Alyssa Garcia.)

With a tumultuous year of distance learning and lost milestones behind them, the graduating class of 2021 crossed their fingers for a normal graduation. This was the first UPA graduation off-campus, the first social gathering of parents, staff and students since March 2020, and for English teacher Claire Ballard, the first graduation where she had taught the entire class their seventh-grade year. 

Awaiting their diplomas, graduates sit socially distanced in the sun across the stadium from attendees. CDC guidelines were met and followed during the event. (Photo by Tyler Yuen.)

“Previously, I had only had a couple of periods of seventh graders, so I didn’t know them all by the time they graduated,” Ballard said. “But this year, I recognize everybody who isn’t new. And that’s really fun because I remember them when they were seventh graders and now they’re older and graduating. This graduation is kind of special. I feel more connected.” 

The commencement ceremony began with Nur Ambaw, co-president of the Black Student Union (BSU) and heading to University of California, Davis, in the fall, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with one fist in the air to stand in solidarity with the Black community. Graduates, staff and attendees followed suit by holding their fists in the air through the national anthem, sung by Adam Lawson, who will be attending Evergreen Valley Community College in the fall.

Graduate Nur Ambaws raises his fist in the air during the national anthem before the commencement ceremony begins. (Photo by Tyler Yuen.)

“I had thought about how to protest and impact people while I was given the platform and the privilege to stand in front of so many people,” Ambaw said. “There was a speech planned and everything, but I did not want to pull away so much from why we were there: to graduate.”

Graduate Chelsea Nguyen presents the class gift to Porter. It is a binder containing advice for all students of UPA, written and compiled by the senior class. It can be found in the counselor’s office and Porter’s office. (Photo by Tyler Yuen.)

Executive Director David Porter went on to welcome the graduates in his speech and dedicated a moment of silence to the victims of the May 26 VTA shooting. 

Graduate Srikar Chintala, who will be attending University of California, Los Angeles in the fall, gave his valedictorian speech and remarked on his regrets about losing sight of his relationships with friends and family in order to earn his achievement as valedictorian. He expressed his wish to have spent more time building relationships with his peers. 

After the salutatorian Padma Bellamkonda, who is attending San Jose State University in the fall, delivered her speech, the main event, delivering the diplomas, began.

As the names of the graduates were displayed by the jumbotron, they walked across the stage and shook hands with Porter. 

As graduates exited PayPal Park, they reunited with family, friends and teachers one last time before starting the chapter of their lives after high school.

Math teacher Anne Wustrow is awarded a plaque to commemorate her years of service as a teacher at UPA by graduate Thrisha Praveen. Wustrow went on to give her retirement speech and her reflection on the Class of 2021. (Photo by Tyler Yuen.)
Graduates exit the stadium to reunite with their families with a rose and a letter graduates wrote for their parents. Right to left: Graduates Rohan Manian, Isabella Bronner, Emily Bravo, Ishan Madan and Kylie Malone. (Photo by Alyssa Garcia.)