The Aliso Niguel High School Wolverine Stadium in Aliso Viejo swirled with teal, white and black graduation gowns and glittering dreams.
For the 718 graduating seniors, Thursday, June 6 commemorated a hard-won diploma, a handshake from the principal, and a walk offstage and into real life.
“I have had the honor of watching you grow and mature into the amazing young adults you are now,” Aliso Niguel High School Principal Deni Christensen said during her welcome to graduating students, families, friends and colleagues. “We are together today with your arrival at this moment in time, here on this familiar field ready for what comes next.”
In attendance were local elected officials including Capistrano Unified Board Member Gary Pritchard, Ph.D; City of Aliso Viejo Mayor Ross Chun; City Council members Tiffany Ackley, Dave Harrington and Bill Phillips; City of Laguna Niguel Mayor John Mark Jennings; Mayor Pro Tem Laurie Davies and Councilwoman Elaine Gennawey; and Capistrano Unified School District Associate Superintendent, Education Services, Susan Holliday.
The commencement program featured a speech from Scholar of Scholars Angelo Sui. The honor is given to the student with the highest grade-point average.
“Look to your left, look to your right and look at the bleachers,” Sui said to seniors. “Give them a wave. This is your base and we will all help you get through the world.”
Nirmal Agnihotri and senior class co-presidents Jed Kaufman and Joey Mingo additionally delivered senior student addresses.
Speaking to the graduating class of 2019, Christensen shared a message to seniors about embarking on a road trip of a lifetime that will involve adventure, perseverance, grit and discovery — although the journey will include risk and self-sacrifice.
There might not be an In-N-Out for 300 miles, or you might be like her back in the day and find yourself forced to ride in the back seat of a Chevy all the way from California to Nebraska each summer, she said to a laughing audience.
“Today may be your last day as a Wolverine and the end of one road trip, but it also is the first day of a new journey that holds all the promises, hopes, challenges and successes of your future,” Christensen said. “And so, the question is no longer, ‘What road have I traveled these past four years?’ but rather, ‘What road will I take in the coming years?’”
She suggested preparing a checklist for the trip ahead, with five important things to help along the way for what comes next, the first being a reliable and sturdy vehicle.
Seniors, she said, are the car in the metaphor.
Equipped with a collective high school education and experiences, his or her car is now packed and ready to go with the necessary skills; however, down the line, the car will need maintenance and customization. The only way to truly experience the road is to start driving.
The other four essentials?
A carefully calculated travel plan, meaning the goals seniors now have for life after high school.
A trustworthy GPS system, a guide of personal attributes and character traits solidified over the past 18 years with the guidance and love of family and friends.
A solid and reliable garage to return to after each adventure, being the hometown, high school and community.
And, most important of all, insurance, the team of people who love the graduate unconditionally, who will be the first to lend a hand and never have a loved one travel the road of life alone.
“Above all, remember that even a seemingly ‘ordinary’ life lived with honor and integrity is in fact extraordinary and perhaps the greatest personal achievement of all,” Christensen said.
“It is my belief that each of you can go on to live incredible lives, not only because of what you may do, but simply because of who you are,” she added. “Throughout the roads that lie ahead, it is my hope that you will always remember the many teachers, classmates and memories of Aliso Niguel High School.”
The Choral Seniors Choir, directed by Jason Harney, sang the school’s Alma Mater and Farewell Song, followed by Christensen introducing the graduates with Pritchard and Holliday awarding the diplomas to each graduate.
In late May, the school hosted its Senior Awards. Aliso Niguel staff nominated five students for the distinguished honor, Wolverine of the Year, a recognition bestowed to those who exemplify academic achievement, strength of character, warmth of personality, involvement in school and community activities and strong leadership skills.
The nominees with the highest number of votes were invited to participate in an interview process with a panel of administrators, teachers and staff. The finalists were Payton Dodd, Yash Gursahani, Abby Miller and Olivia Stokes, and Wolverine of the Year was awarded to Jason Johnston.
For more graduation coverage, visit CUSDInsider.org.