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La Cañada High Class of ’18 reflects on year of turmoil, achievement

On Thursday, La Cañada High School Class of 2018 willed time to stop just long enough to ponder the past four years of their lives, the people they’ve come to know as family and the campus home where it all happened.

More than 350 graduates crowded onto the football field to participate in the school’s 54th annual commencement ceremony. There they celebrated accomplishments, recognized the tireless efforts of teachers and family members and reflected upon shared memories they’ll carry with them into adulthood.

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Senior Class President Abigail Lidar praised her class’ grit and determination in securing a foothold amid ever-changing world events. This year, students not only embraced change but became advocates for positive change through peaceful protests against gun violence and for legislative reform.

“Each of us contributed a line of verse in making history by being youth stakeholders here on campus as a national movement unfolded,” Lidar said. “Years from now we’ll remember our senior year as a time of political uncertainty and jarring polarization. But we’ll also remember it by our activism, civic engagement and our sense of responsibility to do right by the countless potential change agents whose voices are so often silent.”

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Twin sisters Emily and Sophie Ballinger used their experiences as two distinct personalities to demonstrate how the fertile soil of La Cañada High, lovingly tended to by faculty and staff, provided a root structure that nurtured students as they grew in the individual directions of their hearts.

“Regardless of how hard it gets or how many new and amazing people and places you will discover, you’ll always have your roots supporting you,” said Sophie Ballinger.

Miles Yun recalled always hearing stories from his grandparents about the struggles of growing up in Korea — carrying young siblings on their backs as they evaded bombs, walking hours to get to school and drinking rationed milk powder — and questioned what legacy he’d impart to future generations.

He determined everyone has a unique story to tell and figured the La Cañada high experience would be part of the collective narrative he would always share with his classmates.

“You, not your environments, not someone else, not your education, but you make your own story,” Yun said. “This is our time. These are our lives, and this is the story of the unforgettable LCHS class of 2018.”

In a departure from the usual graduation script, Principal Ian McFeat offered three lessons he learned after receiving a recent diagnosis of colon cancer — acutely intervene in your world, lead with your heart and listen to your mother (a little bit).

He learned from surgeon Howard Kaufman that acute intervention, in the right place and time, can save a life and suggested students look for opportunities to intervene on behalf of others. From LCHS senior Ethan Kalnins, a special education student who survived an on-campus accident yet still answers anyone who asks how he’s doing with “Superb,” McFeat learned the importance of maintaining a positive attitude. Lastly, the principal shared how his mother called him last year to remind him to get screened for colon cancer since it ran in the family.

“As I was wont to do with her advice, I ignored it,” he confessed. “I’m not asking you to do everything your mothers ask you to, just to listen sometimes.”

Degrees were handed out as parents and friends employed noises, songs and confetti launchers to capture the attention of their intended recipients. Afterward, audience members and graduates converged on the football field in a crush of happy and tearful hugs of congratulation.

Senior Courtney Culver said she was a little overwhelmed by the event. Though she plans to attend New Orleans’ Tulane University in the fall, that night’s plans extended no further than the Hollywood Palladium, where she and friends planned to see Australian band King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard.

What will she take away from her time at La Cañada High School?

“Definitely the people I’ve met here and being in a safe environment to try things and explore,” she said.

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