Lompoc High School's football field turned into a sea of blue and white caps and gowns during the Class of 2021 commencement ceremony on Thursday afternoon.

Making her way to the stadium to witness her grandson, Derek Fernandez, 17, walk onto the campus field as a graduating senior, Cynthia Moren was overcome with emotion.

"My grandson is autistic," Moren said, wiping tears from her eyes. "This is a wonderful thing; I'm so happy and proud of him. How lucky can one be to participate in this?"

Senior Lisandro Magdaleno, standing in the procession line with his peers prior to entering the stadium, admitted he was grateful to be there. 

"As a freshman, I never thought I would be in this place; I never thought I would succeed in my classes. So I'm proud of myself, and blessed," he said.

Post-graduation, Magdaleno said he plans to pursue his passion in music production while continuing to build his personal clothing line brand. 

Parent Derek Hall, joined by family members, stood at the front end of the stadium to watch his son, Nicolas Hall, walk onto the field and to later accept his diploma. 

"It was a little struggle at times," said Hall, "but he picked himself up and he got back into his books ... and made it. It feels good."

Class of 1997 Lompoc High graduate and mother of five, Sharon Kentzler, looked on as the commencement began.

"This turned out beautiful," she said. "I'm super excited to be here. I thought [graduation ceremony] would just be swept under the rug."

Kentzler commended her twins, Riley and Brenden Bailey, 17, for a successful school career despite some unexpected challenges.

"With everything — and COVID, they adjusted very well," she said, "and they still were able to maintain their high GPAs."

Kentzler's daughter, Hannah Brooks, 15, a rising sophomore at Lompoc High School, said she was proud of her siblings. 

"I think they really deserve to get this recognition," she said. "And I can't wait for when I can do this."

Surrounded by cheering family and friends, Principal Celeste Pico stood before the 307 graduates and praised them for "embracing the chaos" amid a year characterized by challenges.

"You have survived a pandemic and have proven that you are resilient and have the drive and tenacity to push through anything," Pico said. "Be proud of yourself; you made it."

Pico also praised teachers, counselors, parents and coaches alike for helping to guide students and declared to students, "You have been prepared. You are ready."

She described the many ways in which students rose to the occasion over the years, continuing still during one of the most challenging academic years where being adaptable played a central role.

"Brave pride will follow you wherever you go," Pico said. "Do not question failure as this is a means to success. Find comfort in being uncomfortable and know you are braver than you will ever believe."

Sticking to a running theme of bravery, Senior Class President Marina Adele Grossini addressed her classmates. "We've been through it," she said, citing surviving an upended senior year as proof that members of the Class of 2021 are in every sense brave.  

"Regardless of these obstacles, we still remained resilient and dedicated to truly emulating a Lompoc Brave," she said. "Everything that has happened has led up to this point. We are an example of perseverance."

Outlining the many paths to follow post-graduation, Grossini encouraged students to "make yourself proud" and to be brave.

"Do the things you truly want to do, whether its dying you hair that crazy color, or pursuing that art career or traveling all over the world — or whatever you want to do," she said. "Class of 2021, the world is yours."

Lisa André covers lifestyles and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record. 

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