The San Francisco Unified School District salutes its 2021 graduates. (Shutterstock)

The San Francisco Unified School District salutes its 2021 graduates. (Shutterstock)

Celebrating the Class of 2021

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Graduation is a special time for students to celebrate the years of hard work that it takes to grow and advance to the next stage in life. And it’s not just special for graduates. Families and friends get to appreciate the accomplishments of loved ones. For teachers and school staff, this rite of passage is the culmination of their commitment to lifting up the next generation.

For our nearly 4,000 graduating high school seniors, the San Francisco Unified School District in partnership with the City and County of San Francisco will be offering in-person graduation ceremonies to commemorate the huge milestone of earning a high school diploma. Graduations For All this week is being livestreamed so families of our graduating seniors near and far can watch from home. Students moving up a grade, especially fifth graders and eighth graders, will also have special ceremonies.

At all grade levels, SFUSD strives to prepare our graduates by developing the characteristics and competencies we call our Graduate Profile. SFUSD works to help each and every one of our students graduate ready for career and life; ready to be their best selves; ready to create; ready to lead and work with others; ready to tackle a changing world; and ready to learn, think and grow.

Today, I want to introduce you to just a few members of the class of 2021 who each exemplify one or more of these readiness traits in their own unique way.

As a child, Kayvan Zahiri enjoyed expressing his creativity through piano, drawing and doodling. At 9 years old, surgery for a large tumor in his spine hospitalized him for six months and he lost his ability to speak, swallow, breathe on his own and function from the waist up. At Balboa High School, Kayvan rediscovered his ability to both draw and design with an animation class, using computer software operated through his feet. He quickly adapted to available technologies to return to the classroom in middle school and then navigate the halls of high school. He has maintained a 4.0 GPA for all four years in high school even during distance learning. In his own words, Kayvan says,“I will always be ready to create and find solutions for any challenges that I may encounter in the future.”

Growing up in a community where violence was common, Irina Tamayo was inspired to show more empathy and help others. At John O’Connell High School she is in the Health and Behavioral Science Pathway and pursuing a career as a registered nurse. She has been class president her sophomore, junior and senior year and used her position to create a positive school environment while promoting resources for students. She is vice president of the Sueno Latinx club and still keeps it alive this past year with virtual bi-monthly meetings.

As the eldest child, Romaissa Khaldi withdrew from school at age 11 to support her family in Algeria. At 13, she arrived at Marina Middle School, two years behind in school but quickly adapted, learned English, and in high school became interested in the health care industry. As part of Galileo Academy of Science and Technology’s Health Academy curriculum, she visits hospitals weekly, shadows medical professionals and solidified her interest in pursuing medicine as a career. She is dually enrolled in City College of San Francisco and will be EMT certified by the end of the year.

Lana Nguyen started taking on responsibilities for her family at an early age. She asked the question, “How can I help?” and then dedicated herself to work toward increasing access to health care within her community. She championed a campaign to engage her peers in Washington High School’s Wellness Center through surveys, open conversations, communication materials and a supportive environment that encourages students to seek help when needed. In May 2020, Lana co-founded SupplyHopeInfo to mitigate educational disparities and provide school supplies to 2,000+ low-income students. She has raised $40,000 for this project and has received global news coverage for her work.

Jackson Deng emigrated to the U.S.from China at age 9. As his confidence grew, he joined the Japanese Community Youth Council Upward Bound program and then the Youth for Community Engagement program at Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, becoming a senior building leader, and began teaching workshops. Jackson has never lost sight of his goals and has worked tirelessly to overcome his obstacles. What stands out is his positive spirit, personality, drive, his genuine demeanor and commitment to serving the children, youth and families in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In 10th grade, Caleb Parker made the decision to create his road map to college. He enrolled in San Francisco State University Step to College program and Saturday academic programs, and became involved in Project Wreckless (Black students learning mechanics and building cars from scratch), provided social feedback to the National Park and Recreations on ways to better the community, completed a culinary program with the YMCA, and volunteers with his church. Caleb organized feeding the homeless twice a month (providing prepared meals and toiletries) and after seeing how many seniors shop alone, he began assisting them with grocery shopping. He is a member of Mission High School’s Black Student Union, African American Male Achievement Program, Operation Genesis and participated in the Junior ROTC program, SF Achievers, 100% College Prep program and enrolled in AVID classes.

To the entire SFUSD Class of 2021: You will always have a special place in our hearts and in history. As you continue your journey into the next chapter of your lives, let learning be your guide and your strength. From the entire SFUSD community, congratulations and we are so proud of you!

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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