Short-and-sweet commencement ceremony at Rio Memorial Field sees 199 graduate

In front of a full grandstand of adoring family and friends at Rio Memorial Field, senior students at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School said goodbye to their high school years and took the first big step to their respective futures.

And they didn’t waste any time doing it.

One hundred and ninety-nine Class of 2024 graduates received their diplomas May 31 in a brisk, efficiently run hour-long ceremony on a sunny Friday afternoon.

The commencement ceremony began as the graduating seniors emerged from the school gym and walked along the stadium track on their way to the seat on the field. Of course, their was no shortage of what one might call “flair”: Fancy scarves, colorful leis, mortarboards decorated with the logo of one’s future college or a meaningful or humorous saying of some sort.

Santa Ynez High graduating senior Shannon Morehouse gives her commencement address during the May 31 ceremony at Rio Memorial Field. Photo by Mike Chaldu

Once the students were huddled in the seats, Senior Class President Ricardo Carmona led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, which was followed by Athena Kett singing the national anthem.

ASB President Ava Ladinig, and Senior Class Vice President Samara Perez were introduced to welcome the audience to the graduation ceremony. 

“We would like to say thank you to our parents, teachers, counselors, administrators and classmates who have helped us reach this milestone in our lives,” Ladinig said, followed by Perez expressing the same sentiment for the Spanish speakers present.

SYHS Interim Principal Andrew Alvidrez, the second to serve in the position during the academic year, introduced the SVYUHS District Board of Trustees Chris Johnson (president), Sherri Noble, Kathy Grace-Velazquez, and Susan Shehab, as well as Interim District Superintendent Elysia Lewis.

Alvidrez then addressed the parents of the graduates.

“We want to thank you for letting us be a part of these seniors’ lives,” the principal said. “We are very proud of them and we can’t wait to hear of many of their successes.”

Alvidrez then addressed the soon-to-be graduates, using the words of a famous author.

“T.S. Eliot once wrote, ‘Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go,'” he said. “The best advice I can give you is to go far. Don’t stop. Blaze your own trail. Hold your head up high, and never, ever, ever quit.”

With that, Alvidrez introduced the first of two student speakers, Shannon Morehouse.

Morehouse began by describing the circumstances the Class of 2024 were dealt with when they first entered high school during the COVID pandemic.

“We had our eighth-grade school year cut short, had drive-thru graduations in 2020, and spent a lot of time in our first year on Zoom,” she said. “We never thought that was what high school would be like, but we made do with the circumstances we were given. We prevailed, and we have officially taken the first step on our way to adulthood.

“So, welcome to an in-person graduation ceremony. We deserve it.”

Morehouse went on to cite many of the small milestones on her class’ way to this in-person graduation, among them:Slowly returning to a normal classroom environment and getting to “put faces to the names,” their first Homecoming, with an out-of-this-world theme offering “dancing aliens on a screen behind the DJ,” and “accidentally” building a bridge in science class that couldn’t be crushed by a 16-pound frozen turkey.

Morehouse ended her speech by telling how her uncle asked her what were the best lessons she learned in high school, and she mentioned two. The first was realizing that Shay’s Rebellion was “not about the British, it’s about the farmers.”

For the second, she went by the advice offered by the late, great singer Kenny Rogers.

“Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run,” Morehouse said. “My fellow classmates, we now get to run.”

Introduced next was the next student speaker, Lizbeth Ortega Aguilera.

Ortega, while reveling in the fact that “we made it,” also reminded her classmates to appreciate the memories they made in their previous four years.

Santa Ynez High graduating senior Lizbeth Ortega Aguilera gives her commencement address during the May 31 ceremony at Rio Memorial Field. Photo by Mike Chaldu

“We were always so caught up on wanting to grow up, we did not notice that we were making memories that will last us a lifetime,” she said. “Our senior year was not just our last year of high school, but our last football game … last prom … last time going to El Rancho Marketplace for lunch … last time staying up all night to study for an AP exam.

“However, though graduation is bittersweet, we must close this chapter of our lives and start writing the next.”

Ortega also spoke about her pride being a first-generation, Mexican American high school graduate, and how much that moment means to her. On that note, she recited the middle part of her speech in Spanish “as a tribute to all the Hispanic students and families present with us here today.”

In going back to English, Ortega told her classmates to embrace the future, no matter how uncertain it may be.

“I’m nervous, and a little scared for what life has waiting for me,” she said. “But the future isn’t something we enter, thefuture is something that we create. I see a bright future full of hope and change, and I hope you all take a sense of pride, purpose, and a sense of responsibility with you.”

After the commencement addresses, SYHS Assistant Principal Jasmine Day introduced the 36 Class of 2024 students who achieved a grade-point average of 4.0 or above, and were identified by the gold stolls they wore with their robes.

Before receiving their diplomas, the students were addressed by Assistant Superintendent Lewis who encouraged the class about to take the next big step.

“May you continue to pursue your passions, chase your dreams, and then leave an indelible mark on the world,” Lewis said. “Congratulations graduates. Your journey has just begun.”

Congratulations, and best of luck to SYHS’s Class of 2024.