Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo high schools graduated 760 seniors at respective commencement ceremonies Friday.
In what graduates and parents described as a day of celebration, reflection and gratitude, the seniors gathered together one last time to accept their diplomas and embrace their futures. Family, friends and mentors gathered, clutching balloons, flowers and cameras, to cheer, weep and observe the milestone.
The two were the last San Luis Obispo County high schools to hold commencement ceremonies this year.
Paso Robles High
At Paso Robles High School, winds kicked in just before seniors marched to their seats, many holding their caps on their heads.
As flags flapped loudly around them, a few balloons escaped from the standing-room-only crowd at War Memorial Stadium.
This year, 419 seniors received degrees, but only one — Austin Swank — was named valedictorian. For a school that typically has multiple valedictorians, it was rare. But Swank was the only student to earn straight A’s throughout high school.
Because there was a three-way tie, no salutatorian was named this year.
Swank, an infielder on the baseball team, will go on to attend Cal Lutheran next fall, where he will continue to play baseball and will get a $17,500-a-year scholarship.
The class of 2011 broke records for scholarship money received, Principal Randall Nelson said before ending with the familiar, “Once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat!”
The commencement — the 115th at Paso Robles — was broadcast online for the first time and featured a medley of songs from “The Lion King” by the high school band and Katy Perry’s “Firework,” performed by Madison Butz and Brandon Ellsworth.
Four years of high school was “a test of patience, abilities and courage,” class President Kimberly Bergin said. But the things she will remember the most, she added, are the smiles, laughs and tears.
Superintendent Kathy McNamara, giving a speech in English and Spanish, reminded graduates to remain positive through life.
“I want you to always remember to be a good friend and to be happy,” she said.
San Luis Obispo High
On Friday afternoon, the 334 graduates, clad in black gowns and mortar caps, proudly sat in white folding chairs carefully arranged on the green lawn of the high school’s football stadium. Salutatorian Maliena Guy, 17, said she would miss the beautiful campus and the friends she had grown close to during her four years on campus.
Guy, who will attend UC Berkeley in the fall to study engineering, said her parting message to underclassmen was to, “Have fun, enjoy learning and be involved.”
The class of 2011 included 82 students with grade point averages at 4.0 or above. The students, who received $134,000 in local scholarship money, plan to attend such schools as Harvard, Boston University, MIT, Brown University, Northwestern, UCLA, UC Berkeley and Cal Poly.
Other students, such as Tanner Arellanes, 18, will seek full-time jobs while attending Cuesta College.
Arellanes, who wants to be a mechanic, said he will miss the good atmosphere of the school but looks forward to working toward his future.
Valedictorian Cassie Roach paid tribute to student Oscar Gonzalez, who was killed by a train in July, and math teacher David Melton, who died of an unexpected heart attack in March. Roach also reminded students, “We truly do have the world before us.”
Principal Will Jones, who retires this year after 22 years at the high school, received a standing ovation from the students.
“I am graduating with you, myself, this year,” Jones said. “I couldn’t be ending my career with a better class.”