The Saugus High School Class of 2021 discussed how they learned a number of academic disciplines and skills during their time on Centurion Way at Thursday’s graduation ceremony.
But the class, unlike almost any other graduating class in Santa Clarita Valley history, has also learned how to deal with the aftermath of loss.
Whether it be a loss of friends, a loss of parents or the loss of a traditional high school experience, the Centurions’ Class of 2021 spent the past 20 months, as teacher Jim Klipfel said, becoming well-versed in deciding how to respond to a crisis.
“Will we emerge worse off, the same or stronger; choose misery, the status quo or strength?” asked the California Teacher of the Year honoree, recounting advice he and the other survivors of the Saugus High School shooting on Nov. 14, 2019, had received.
The teacher then asked the Class of 2021 — which he characterized as “amazing, resilient and promising, young people” — to use life’s pain, losses and challenges as an opportunity to grow.
“Lean into life’s sharp edges, seek not to avoid the storm,” said Klipfel. “Learn to dance in the rain; this will make you stronger and in turn happier.”
He then left the class with five final words, and a few suggestions:
“Choose strength, love each other, do it intentionally, do it with purpose,” said Klipfel. “Thank you and Saugus Strong.”
Class speaker Kaitlyn Thanet challenged the idea, at least for her class, that high school needed to be the best four years of their lives, as has been commonly said to them, she said.
But instead, she asked the graduates, who had been largely removed from campus for the majority of both their junior and senior years, to realize that high school did not need to be the “High School Musical” version, as it has been for many before them.
“High school doesn’t need to be your peak, instead it needed to prepare you for it,” said Thanet. “Those four words were my stepping stone into the realization that complimenting a stranger as you pass by, or being there for a friend at 3 in the morning, are some of the most important aspects in life.
“As you walk out of this stadium and say goodbye to friends who you may never see again, take a second and think about what your stepping stone is,” she added. “What is catapulting you into the best years of your life?”
But regardless of what they plan to choose for their futures, those in attendance Thursday — from the parents to the extended family members to even the firefighters showing their support for their fallen colleague’s daughter — were just happy to see the students thriving one more time.
“A lot of guys here were there for that day,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Chris Reade, referencing the shooting that took the lives of students Dominic Blackwell and Gracie Muehlberger. “And the efforts from the faculty of the school, from the first responders, both law enforcement and Fire … it’s nice to see the students be able to move on with their lives.”
In total, the Saugus High School Class of 2021 had 584 graduates, 202 graduating with honors. Their common college choices included a number of the University of California and California State University Campuses, University of Oregon, University of Arizona, University of Washington, Boise State University, Northern Arizona University, and Colorado State University.