Despite Orcutt Academy High School’s small size, the campus’ blacktop was filled with decorated cars and excited families for the school’s 10th annual graduation on Friday afternoon.

The drive-in ceremony allowed families to enjoy the festivities from their vehicles as the graduates, dressed in navy blue caps and gowns with their masks, sat with their class and walked across the stage.

Families and friends sat in and outside of their vehicles with homemade signs, decorations and confetti to celebrate the graduates. Car horns could even be heard as a way of cheering as names were read.

Orcutt Academy’s Class of 2021 includes 138 students, 97% of whom will be continuing their education at either Allan Hancock College or four-year universities across the country, according to a news release from Joe Dana, director of charter programs.

Additionally, three of the school’s graduates are enlisting in the military.

“Orcutt Academy truly has some of the most passionate, devoted and crazy teachers you’ll probably ever have, but they helped us become the people we are today,” Riley Speer, one of three senior class co-presidents, said during their opening remarks.

A graduate of Orcutt Academy High School and his family hug after Friday’s graduation ceremony.
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A graduate of Orcutt Academy High School and his family hug after Friday’s graduation ceremony. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)

The commencement ceremony began with a flag salute led by Associated Student Body vice president Jack Hinkle and a performance of the national anthem by the school’s choir, followed by opening speeches from senior class co-presidents Speer, Abigail Valencia and Shivani Panchal, and Principal Rhett Carter.

After the opening speeches, the school’s Associated Student Body president and vice president bid farewell to this year’s foreign exchange students with the annual flag exchange.

Two exchange students from Italy attended Orcutt Academy during the spring 2021 semester, and both participated in the school’s swim team.

“This class has learned more about resiliency and determination than any other graduating class we’ve had from Orcutt Academy,” Orcutt Union School District Superintendent Dr. Holly Edds said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Class of 2021 to spend most of their senior year learning online, as blended online and in-person classes didn’t start until late March.

Despite the struggles brought on by the pandemic, Orcutt Academy’s graduating class remained positive and expressed that this year’s circumstances only forged a stronger bond among them.

Valedictorian Camila Gomez delivers her address on Friday.
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Valedictorian Camila Gomez delivers her address on Friday. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)

“To me, our class is unquestionably unique compared to any other graduating class,” valedictorian Camila Gomez said. “A lot of physical aspects of the school are different, but the feelings, emotions, sensations are the same as before … . I think that just speaks to our bond as a group of people and who we are.”

Gomez expressed how important she believes these bonds to be, especially as the class parts ways again and the seniors continue their lives beyond graduation.

The Class of 2021 has developed a connection in how they act and see the world because of the pandemic, Gomez said.

“That’s why our bond is so important; it makes it so we’re not alone,” Gomez said. “All of us have potential to be great as we become adults.”

— Serena Guentz is a local freelance writer. Contact her at [email protected].

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