Pomp & Circumstances

Five graduations! Hot students! Good vs. evil! Dave Brubeck vs. Eleanor Roosevelt! All this and a pack of Trojans!

When Davidson is done, there are awards. Deanna Thomas, who won a national Spanish contest for Christian high schools, receives the loudest applause. Her accomplishment is all the more remarkable since, three years ago, Thomas could not speak or understand Spanish. On a mission to Tijuana, she became frustrated that she couldn't help, interact or minister. She thought about the significant numbers of Spanish-speaking members in Bethel's congregation. On her own, she began to hang out with the church's Spanish ministry, listening to conversations, writing down words she didn't understand, and then going home and looking them up in a Spanish-to-English dictionary. While others marvel at this, Thomas is unfazed. Serious, intense, she says simply, "God is the reason for everything in my life." She wears this intensity as she is called to receive her diploma. With such a small class, school officials are not only able to mention the graduates' names, but also their parents', which person brought them to the Lord, and even their favorite Bible verse.

Regarding Bible verses: most of the students have chosen something that deals with refusing the world's seeming riches to instead suffer for Christ. School administrator Terry Cantrell, giving the benediction, refers to it as "the evil days that lay ahead."

With that, he sends the graduates out of the church, the congregation singing "Onward Christian Soldiers."

"DON'T MOVE"University High School, Irvine High School Stadium, Irvine. June 22, 5 p.m.

Police direct traffic into Irvine High School; many people decide to direct their cars into nearby housing tracts. As they walk onto campus, they're met by people selling flowers (half a dozen for $10), commemorative mugs ($10) and T-shirts ($10). When they get to the stadium, they find that, 30 minutes before the ceremony is scheduled to begin, the home side is overflowing and the visitors' side is filling up quickly. It's hot and sunny. People drink water ($1 per bottle), fan themselves with programs and wait.

University High is one of the best-performing, best-funded schools in the county. Out of a graduating class of 516, the program lists 74 students with a grade-point average of 4.0 or better with 11 students at 4.4 or higher.

"Look at this list," a kid in the stands says. "They're all Asians."

He laughs. He's Asian. His friends are Asian. His girlfriend isn't. "Guess what race she is," he says to his friends, who retreat in discomfort, his girlfriend rolling her eyes.

To most people's relief, the graduates enter the stadium five minutes early, walking by the aquatic center in which synchronized swimmers are practicing, past the tennis courts where pros are working on their clients' backhands. They walk over the track, patrolled by security personnel wearing two-way headsets, onto the field and are in their seats in a very brisk 10 minutes. The crowd is directed in the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem. During the latter, to the annoyance of more than a few, a man screams in Chinese into a cell phone. There's a song ("Forever Friends") and then two speeches by students. Sarah Suojanen quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald—"Don't worry about popular opinion; don't worry about anyone getting ahead of you; don't worry about triumph; don't worry about mosquitoes, flies or insects in general; don't worry about parents and don't worry about disappointment. But worry about courage." She talks about courage in dealing with the changes that come in life, summing up with something her mother told her: "You can go to a dance. The music can be great and all your friends can be there, but in the end, only you can decide whether or not you want to have fun."

Julia Chen talks about the wonderful decade that produced "a world networked by a tiny silicon chip." She tells them to "go forth and conquer. . . . I urge you to believe in yourself, to support those you love, to learn from those who came before you, and to set a good example for those who come after you."

Things move fast. By the time they present the class gift—a senior area with benches and a kiosk, plus a $1,000 grant and a podium with a carved Trojan—half the program is complete in less than 30 minutes.

"Man, they're moving this thing right along," says one man. "Good."

The man yelling into his cell phone is still yelling. The people he wanted to be here appear as if they will miss the whole thing. It's already time to give out the diplomas. Students rise row by row and are sent to the side of the stage, where, one by one, they are handed a prop diploma case as they smile at a portrait photographer, who clicks their picture and sends them onstage. The students then move the tassels on their caps and, incredibly, in one hour, the whole thing is done. Parents and friends are told they may join the graduates on the field as security personnel roll back the fences. The people come down in droves, and confusion reigns. The man is still yelling into his cell phone, wandering aimlessly around the field. Many people cannot find their graduate. One anxious father commands the rest of his family to "stay here. Just stay here, I'll go and find him. NO! Just stay here. Don't move." Gradually, families reunite. Some hug and take pictures. Others just stand quietly. Still others move virtually unnoticed from the field, walking with their parents, looking at no one.

"IT'S COOL"Emerson Honors High School, Emerson Honors High School auditorium, Orange. June 23, 10 a.m.
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