Class of 2021 reunites for the first time of the year at in-person graduation

For the first — and last — time, Palo Alto High School’s graduating class of 2021 came together to celebrate an incredible high school journey with a graduation ceremony Wednesday afternoon at Viking Stadium. 

The ceremony marked the first time in over a year that Paly’s class of 2021 were able to come together since Paly’s shut down back in March of 2020. 

In her graduation speech, Associated Student Body President Avantika Singh described the perseverance of the class of 2021. 

“I don’t think anyone thought this is what our final year would look like,” Singh said. “While it started quite boring for most of us with shelter-in-place and online classes, I’m glad it’s ending like this. Honestly, it’s amazing how far we have come.”

Senior Zoe Rosenfeld expressed her relief at knowing there would be an in-person graduation ceremony to close out the year. 

“I honestly didn’t think that graduation was going to happen this year, but I’m so glad it did,” Rosenfeld said. “It was so fun getting to see everybody in person after not seeing them for such a long time, and it gave me a sense of closure that I thought I wouldn’t be able to have.”

In an address to the class of 2021, Principal Brent Kline addressed the extraordinary spirit of the graduating class in the most difficult of times. 

“I just want to say congratulations, and what an enormous event that we are involved in at this particular moment,” Kline said. “It’s been a long road, but today, I think that makes up for it. For everything that we’ve done, for everything that we’ve been through, for the pain, but most importantly this is the beginning of reconnection because we’ve all been separated for way too long.”

Closing out his address, Kline paid tribute to the class of 2020, who never experienced an in-person graduation ceremony due to COVID-19. 

“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.”

Jonathan Sneh, Paly’s student speaker, used Spikeball — a popular game seen on campus — to represent the amazing Paly community. 

“Our community is strong, and anyone can feel welcome and be a part of it, just like with Spikeball,” Sneh said. “I can come up to anyone with a ball in hand and ask them if they want to play and we’ll be rallying in seconds.”

Former ASB President Pooja Akella and former Senior Class President  Frida Rivera also appeared as guest speakers, who represented the Class of 2021 and gave the graduates a word of advice.

“Don’t view graduation as a closure,” Akella said. “View it as a chapter in an unfinished book, waiting for you to write the next chapter.”

Following Akella and Rivera’s speech, graduates were called up on stage to tumultuous applause from friends and family in the crowd. They received their diplomas in traditional graduation fashion, but without the handshake to stay COVID safe. Safety was a priority at graduation, with all attendees completing a health screener before entering. Chairs were spaced out to ensure social distancing, and graduates were able to bring up to four guests from the same household. 

After an unprecedented year, the last day of high school was a bittersweet moment for senior Gaurav Tyagi. 

“I loved coming together with the rest of my classmates and having fun during lunch during spirit week and dress-up days,” Tyagi said. “It’s something I’ll definitely miss a lot.” 

Senior class president Emma Lin gave some final words to the group of 523 graduating seniors. 

“Thank you to all the people who have shone some light into our lives for the past four years,” Lin said. “Class of 2021, I’ll keep my expectations low and my hopes high for you.”

All photos by Daniel Garepis-Holland and Benjamin Grimes