Hands up for graduation

Connor McCarthy celebrates with his diploma in hand at Nipomo High School Class of 2012 graduation.
Connor McCarthy celebrates with his diploma in hand at Nipomo High School Class of 2012 graduation. The Tribune

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Paso Robles High School's valedictorian. He is Andrew Chang.

Graduation ceremonies continued across San Luis Obispo County on Friday, giving seniors at Nipomo and Paso Robles high schools their turn to listen to speeches, bat around a few beach balls and celebrate the culmination of years of hard work with their classmates.

Family and friends gathered at Nipomo High School as seniors’ voices echoed throughout Titan Stadium in a series of recorded messages. Students thanked parents, friends, siblings and teachers, including retiring drama teacher Robyn Metchik.

The 260 graduates walked out onto the field as the Nipomo High School Concert Band played “Pomp and Circumstance.”

“This school has left its mark,” said Kenneth Cromer, valedictorian and senior class president. He described the class as an intricate puzzle — each student is a distinctive and unique piece, but all are needed to make it whole.

Student Tyler Menane challenged his classmates to do something bigger than themselves.

“Take time to determine what you want to achieve,” he said.

Principal Michelle Johnson gave students an opportunity to select a smooth stone from a bowl as they left the stage, a symbol of something solid to hold onto and a reminder to take a step back from the chaos of life and soak up individual moments.

Social studies teacher Jim Johnson urged students to follow their dreams.

“By ‘follow your dreams,’ I really mean work your tail off to make your dream a reality,” he said.

Paso Robles High School

Meanwhile, 405 seniors from Paso Robles High School were honored during a windy ceremony at Flamson Middle School’s War Memorial Stadium.

Valedictorian Andrew Chang, who plans to major in biology and medical studies at UCLA, started his speech with a nod to the other students who finished with 4.0 or better grade-point averages, who, he said, “deserve to be up here just as much, if not more, than I do.”

Addressing the entire student body, Chang said his fellow graduates have likely changed a lot over the past four years.

“Maybe you’ve figured out exactly what you wanted to do in the future, or fallen in love, or overcome a great tragedy or sorrow — all of which are more than I can say about myself, although I will say that I did get my black belt and got my braces removed.”

Chang, who also volunteered at a local emergency room, plans to become a doctor.

While the high school didn’t recognize salutatorians in 2011, this year it honored two: Jacob Talbert, who also plans to attend UCLA, majoring in physiological sciences, and Jesus Lopez, who intends to study math at UC Berkeley. Fourteen other students had straight As or at least a 4.0 grade-point average.

While many of the graduating seniors plan to further their education in California — Cuesta College being the most commonly cited in the school’s student magazine — others plan to venture out of state, going to schools such as Vassar College in New York, University of Arizona and University of Oklahoma.

The ceremony, which was streamed live on the Internet, also featured musical performances by the Paso Robles High School band and the Love Notes a cappella band, consisting of seniors Lindsay Reed, Emily Cone, Katie Wingfield and Trinity Smith.

More photos from Paso Robles High's graduation »

More photos from Nipomo High's graduation »

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune