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Orcutt Academy Graduates 141 Members of the Class of 2018

Families and well-wishers fill the Hancock College gymnasium for graduation ceremony

High school graduates fill gymnasium Click to view larger
Orcutt Academy High School’s Class of 2018 fills the Hancock College gymnasium on Wednesday for graduation ceremonies. (April Charlton / Noozhawk hoto)

Orcutt Academy High School sent 141 students into the next chapter of their lives Wednesday after the bright-eyed teens filed into Allan Hancock College’s gymnasium sporting graduation gowns and mortar boards.

The metal bleachers were packed with well-wishers celebrating the small charter school’s seventh annual commencement ceremony.

“I hold a special place in my heart for each one of you,” Principal Rhett Carter told his graduating student body, noting that during this year’s speech, he would be borrowing from the thoughts of the famed Bill Gates.

During past years’ commencement ceremonies, Carter said, he had always drawn from sports analogies to prepare his graduation speeches.

This year, Carter spoke about the Class of 2018 losing loved ones and people close to them during their high career but not giving up. Instead, the principal said the students found ways to push through their pain and grief, while also helping others, a formidable task.

He told the students to take those experiences and examples of the last four years with them into their future, drawing from those rough periods when necessary to get through life.

“When times get difficult, reach out to those who helped you along the way,” Carter said. “Go forward and serve with honor.”

Orcutt Academy began as a dream that turned into a reality, opening in 2008 with about 100 students and seven teachers. Today, there are almost 550 students enrolled at the charter school.

Salutatorian Keona Mae Pablo reminded her fellow graduating seniors that the culmination of the past four years of school didn’t define who they were as individuals or who they will become in the future.

“It’s all the life lessons,” she said. “It’s not all the stress and homework.”

The teen, who was born in Japan but has lived in Santa Maria since the first grade, also told her fellow classmates that hers wasn’t a typical salutatorian speech that urged them to look to their future, “as there is no future, there is only now,” she said.

She also said much of what she learned from high school is that life is about the now.

“It’s the experience, the little moments, the now,” Pablo said. “Life is a compliment of fleeting happiness. It’s these moments that are all the reasons to live. Experience the now. Enjoy now.”

Santa Maria native and class valedictorian Chloe Sheley choked back tears as she thanked her teachers and parents for their unwavering support during her time at the school.

The teen also said she had an “overwhelmingly difficult time” sitting down to write her speech, which took her two weeks. In the end, she said she believes high school is simply a time in life that’s both awkward and strange.

“I have come to that conclusion. It’s just a strange period of time our lives … not glamorous,” Sheley said, adding future graduates  “It’s just a strange period of time in our lives … not glamorous.”

According to California Department of Education data, Orcutt Academy has one of the highest graduation rates of all high schools in the Santa Maria Valley. 

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