Berkeley High School celebrated the graduation of its 2017 class Friday evening.
About 4,500 attendees filled the stands of the Hearst Greek Theatre — where the graduation took place — as students from the school’s jazz program played “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Family members and friends of graduates watched as about 800 red and gold-robed students walked onto the stage amid cheers and applause to receive their diplomas. Graduating students from BHS and Berkeley Technology Academy both took part in the ceremony.
From the very beginning, the ceremony was a tribute to BHS’s diversity and activism, opening with 16 students each saying ‘Welcome’ in different languages.
“(My favorite thing about BHS is) the diversity of (the) school itself,” said BHS graduate Ella Griego. “There’s so many people from so many backgrounds and it’s so inclusive.”
BTA Principal Ardarius McDonald began the graduation ceremony by introducing the class of 2017 as “an army of freedom fighters.”
The graduation was peppered with speeches and performances from BHS students and faculty, who emphasized the importance of the turbulent world events that had shaken the class of 2017.
BHS Principal Erin Schweng congratulated the graduating class for coming together across their differences “to protest, to march (and) to speak out.”
BHS graduate Citlaly Hernandez, who shared her achievement of maintaining a 4.0 GPA during high school, spoke about her status as an undocumented immigrant and the importance education played in her life.
“I have not wasted one moment of my life or my family’s sacrifice,” Hernandez stated at the ceremony. “I still do not have my papers, but I am no longer afraid.”
In her speech, BHS graduate Natalie Bettendorf commented on the school’s “beautifully complex, dynamic and capable” community, while BHS graduate and Associated Student Body Cabinet member Miles Kelekian called on students to maintain their activism.
Kaili Meier, a BHS graduate and Editor-in-Chief of the Berkeley High Jacket, praised the class’s activism and “vibrant and complex” diversity in her speech.
“Berkeley High celebrates who you are no matter where you come from,” Meier stated at the ceremony. “It is our activism that is a common thread on our campus. It is our activism that defines who we are as a school.”
The ceremony also featured a dance performance by a multi-ethnic Afro-Haitian dance group. A band composed of BHS students called “Gone Fishin’” also performed music, with graduates passing beach balls and blowing bubbles while the song played.
After the graduation ceremony, BHS graduates reflected on their experiences at the high school.
“(It’s) kind of insane, (I) can’t believe I’ll never see some of these people again,” Griego said. “(It’s) kind of a bittersweet moment if you know what I mean.”
A previous version of this article may have implied that only Berkeley High School students were graduating Friday. In fact, students from the Berkeley Technology Academy also graduated Friday.