Emotional commencement for 2007 grads

“I’m really excited,” Spencer Wu said.

“I’m stoked,” said Jordan Sears.

“I’m amped,” Julie Reed said.

And they’re all graduated.


Without even counting the post-diploma euphoria, the 2007 Laguna Beach High School Class of 2007 graduation Thursday night was a poignant event.


“We’re not just here to celebrate,” said outgoing English teacher and athletic director Mike Roche during his faculty address.

Amidst the backdrop of a full Irvine Bowl, the seniors paid tribute to a lost classmate, welcomed a new member to their class 65 years after he was supposed to graduate, and honored those they loved with abandon.


But they did know how to party — with air horns, beach balls and school cheers.

The first member welcomed into the Class of 2007 was Isamu “Sam” Yamashita, who was a LBHS senior in 1941.

When President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 — which forcibly removed more than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans from the West Coast — Yamashita’s father, a farmer, was sent to a detention camp in Texas.

Yamashita moved to Utah with his brother to continue farming, and the LBHS principal at the time mailed him his diploma.

Yamashita has since created the Maurice Guyer scholarship at LBHS, which he named after his physical education teacher.

He was honored Thursday night with the opportunity to finally cross stage, 65 years after he was supposed to have walked with his classmates.

Photos of a young, strapping football player flashed on a large screen as Yamashita, cane in hand, received the first diploma of the night to thunderous applause.

Max Caputo, who would have graduated this year, was memorialized in picture and words.


At the students’ first event together as seniors, they found themselves last August at his memorial service at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, where they turned to each other for support.

Roche spoke of the camaraderie this built in the class before their school year even began.

He also gave anecdotes of seniors who have gone out of their way to comfort and befriend their other schoolmates, or give their all in sports to benefit the team while experiencing pain or hardship.

“This class is involved with mankind,” Roche said. “When you walk across this stage tonight, you don’t walk alone.”

After jabbing at the Anaheim Ducks for their 2007 Stanley Cup win, the die-hard Kings fan spoke of the amazing amount of work students have to produce today to finish high school.

“What we put you guys through now is borderline ridiculous,” he said.

Rather than offer the customary advice, he chose to hand the mic over to Skipper Carillo, who told the seniors to “have a home run day” to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

Roche also received several from the seniors.


“Anything for extra credit,” he joked.

Later, as each student crossed stage, a picture of them from their childhood was projected.

Little ones in Superman costumes, footed PJs and swim goggles watched their older selves shake hands with the school board and superintendent.

After the diplomas were distributed, the kids spoke of their ambitions, future colleges and careers in between mugging for pictures.

“I’m really proud of my class,” Wu said.

“I know they’ll be ready for whatever life throws them,” school board member Theresa O’Hare said.

The seniors spent the rest of the night at the ESPN Zone at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, at a Grad Night chock full of fortune tellers, henna tattoos, a hypnotist, all-night food and movies.

There, they partied, talked and hugged those dearest to them, some for the last time.

“Our dreams are just the beginning of who we will become,” Chantelle Rowley said during her student address.

She advised seniors to “take Laguna with you” wherever they go.