The Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Class of 2021 stepped into a new future Friday with a turn of their cap tassels and diplomas in hand, cheered by friends, family and staff against a backdrop of congratulatory signage and balloons.

Dressed in black gowns and caps while gathered in the shade outside the school's new gym, seniors waited for their moment to shine prior to the commencement ceremony. 

Friends Ashley Figueroa and Jasmine Rosales, both 18, sat together quietly in anticipation while other students paced, preened or snapped last-minute selfies ahead of their walk onto the campus football field.

Both Figueroa and Rosales said they are the first in their families to graduate high school and head to college, making the day especially meaningful.

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Graduate Omar Jabaieh poses for pictures with his family Friday after the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

"There probably aren't any words," Figueroa said, "but I'm very excited."

Figueroa plans to attend Cal Poly and double-major in business administration and Spanish. Rosales will attend Santa Barbara City College before transferring to a vocational school to become a dermatologist physician assistant.

Headed to find their seats at the campus stadium, parents of graduate Christopher Garcia said they both were proud and excited to witness the day.

"I'm so happy because we didn't graduate," said mother Carmen Garcia. "And my son is graduating."

Christopher, a graduate with highest honors also was the recipient of a Golden State Merit Diploma, based on his demonstrated mastery in at least six subject areas, and was a candidate for the State Seal of Biliteracy — awarded to students who show a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading and writing in one or more languages in addition to English. 

Christopher's brother, Kevin, a sophomore at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, said he was inspired by his brother's achievements.

"It's great because he's going to college to learn more," Kevin said. "I'll go to college, too, but I'm not sure which one. I think I'll study engineering."

Christopher, according to his family, will head to UCSB to pursue studies in history.

Seeking shade prior to the ceremony, Greg Gardner and his 8-year-old daughter Carly waited at the newly redesigned Pirate Plaza under a small tree.

Gardner said after the ceremony, the family would be celebrating his son Nathan, to which Carly smiled.

"We've got the balloons, we've got the cake," Gardner said. "We're going to do it up right."

Remembering his own graduation day "many years ago" that his parents did not attend, he said witnessing his own son's big day was all the more important for him.

"We're so proud of him," Gardner said. "We just hope he has a great, healthy, happy life. If he has a great life, we've done our job."

"Be bold"

During the commencement ceremony, which also was livestreamed, Principal Michele Borges praised the 209 graduates for their undaunting achievements during a most challenging year due to the pandemic.   

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Graduates get ready to turn their tassels Friday in front of the audience during the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

"To this resilient and amazing Class of 2021, it has been my honor to serve as your principal for this past year. I truly wish that I had had more opportunity to get to know more of you. Of those that I have come to know, I have watched you take the lemons that you have been given and not only turn them into lemonade but you have made lemon meringue pie," Borges said.

Among those who graduated were 61 students with highest honors, 47 California Scholarship Federation Lifetime members, 76 National Honor Society members, 62 awaiting candidacy for State Seal of Biliteracy and 55 students with Golden State Merit diplomas. This year also marks Santa Ynez Valley Union High School's 123rd graduating class. 

In her address, Borges encouraged the Class of 2021 to continue to meet challenges head-on and "find the lessons and newfound strengths to guide you as you venture out on your own."

"Explore the world around you, be bold and surround yourself with those that will support and believe in your dreams," she said. "Remember that you will always miss 100% of the shots you never take. Take those shots and remember that if you fall seven times, stand up eight. Never give up on your dreams."

Commencement speakers and graduates Ryan Renee Painter and Jessica Brown each took to the podium to commend their peers and send them off into the world with encouragement.

In a speech titled "Days of the Week," Painter acknowledged fellow graduates by name and special skillset to illustrate the breadth of uniqueness represented in the Class of 2021.

"All of my peers possess something special," she said. "You all played a significant role in my life."

Brown followed up with an address to her peers that outlined the importance of embracing one's own gifts and sharing them boldly with the world.

"There are endless opportunities for us to make our mark on the film industry, to write the next hit song, to invent revolutionary technology and to improve the daily lives of other people," Brown said. "We are the future teachers, the future health-care workers, the politicians, leaders responsible for shaping the world we live in."

Photos: Congratulations Santa Ynez High School class of 2021

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Graduates applaud during the commencement ceremony Friday for the Class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Lupita Bugarin and Alexa Jimenez celebrate after receiving their diplomas Friday during the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 at San…

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Graduate Omar Jabaieh poses for pictures with his family Friday after the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Uni…

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Graduates get ready to turn their tassels Friday in front of the audience during the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 at Santa Ynez…

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A graduate passes the audience after receiving his diploma during the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union H…

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Graduate Mercedes Diaz waits for the start of the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Isaac Soto receives his diploma during the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Commencement speaker Jessica Brown makes her way to the microphone during the graduation ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley U…

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Confetti flies during the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Graduate Alexa Jimenez poses for pictures with her family after the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union Hig…

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Supporters of a graduate watch the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Senior class president Brock Hrehor reacts at the end of the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Graduates hug at the end of the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Graduates celebrate after the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Maclaine Watson displays her decorated cap and new diploma after the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union Hi…

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Basilio Juarez waits for the start of the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Vice principal Peter Haws fist bumps graduates as they walk to the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High…

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Graduates prepare for the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Michaela Baker, right, with Maclaine Watson, left, brought her noisemaker and cooling fan to the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 a…

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Speaker Ryan Renee Painter talks about the “Days of the Week” during the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Unio…

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Graduates receive diplomas during the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Graduate Hailey Johnson sings the National Anthem during the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Principal Michele Borges speaks during the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Holly Solomon reacts after receiving her diploma during the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Graduates pose for pictures after the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Graduates prepare for the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Graduates pose for pictures after the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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Graduates prepare for the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

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

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