Graduates of '09 say their farewells

With poignant memories of their school years and high hopes for the future, the Laguna Beach High School class of 2009 held its commencement ceremony June 18 at the Irvine Bowl.

As he waited to take his seat, Luke Tinkess, 18, said graduation marked a big transition: "I'm excited but nervous because it's such a big step from what we're used to."

Katy Bekken, who will attend Loyola Marymount University in the fall, expressed excitement about the new stage in her life.

"I am a little bit nervous, but I think that it's going to be a new experience, and I'm just going to go in it full throttle," said Bekken, 18.

As the 269 graduating seniors made their way into their seats, turning the Bowl into a sea of maroon and white, they were met by cheering family members and friends who filled the stadium.

Wendy Pierce beamed when talking about her son Dillon, 18, who will attend the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

"I am really excited for him," she said. "He was born and raised in Laguna Beach, and this is a culmination of a great education. These kids have been friends since literally preschool."

After opening remarks and introductions from Principal Don Austin, valedictorian Jake Sganga started the evening with a speech that emphasized the importance of learning from failures. He urged fellow students to not "let a failure go by without learning from it" and ended the speech with a humorous tone by challenging his classmates to "go into the world and fail like you've never failed before," which was met with a roar of applause from the audience.

Senior Alexandra Langton addressed the graduating class with a speech that focused on the influence others have on the development of character. She jokingly recalled an experience the class shared.

"Remember when we went to Catalina and all of us got sick? Even though it wasn't exactly the island vacation we had anticipated, I think it was a really nice bonding experience," she said.

Langton reminded peers about the obstacles they have faced and will face.

"How can we forget freshman year when the MTV cameras came to Laguna and created the Laguna Beach stereotype," Langton said. "The development of our character speaks volumes about the school and shows that Laguna Beach High School is so much more than a show on MTV."

English teacher Jon Hendrickson, distinguished speaker of the ceremony, said he will miss this class.

"They are a bunch of characters, and they have character," he said, cracking a smile.

In his graduate address, he warned the students that "others will try to tell you what your potential is. Others will try to define success for you. Do not let them," he urged. "Stay on your path."

As the speeches came to an end, Austin recognized retiring social studies teacher Mike McGuire and science teacher Art Smart. Austin praised them for their dedication and hard work throughout the years "” as embarrassing pictures of them played on the projector in the background.

The ceremony was bittersweet for Huda Berri, whose sister Ahllam Berri, 18, was among the graduating class.

"She grew up so fast. I'm just happy for her, but it's going to be sad because I was in the same high school with her and it was fun going out with her all the time," Huda Berri said.

"I plan to start my own business," said Lili Clark, 18, "I'm a photographer, so hopefully I will get that off the ground and go to art school for photography."

Other dignitaries in attendance were School Board President Jan Vickers and board members Ketta Brown, Betsy Jenkins, Theresa O'Hare, and Bill Landsiedel; Laguna Beach Unified School District Supt. Robert Fraisse and Assistant Supt. Nancy Hubbell; and Laguna Beach High School Assistant Principals Bob Billinger and Gretchen Ernsdorf. After the ceremony, buses waited outside the Festival of Arts grounds to whisk the graduates away for their grad night party.

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