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The Class of 2017 assembles for Bishop Garcia Diego's commencement Saturday at the Courthouse Sunken Garden.

June 4, 2017 12:29 AM

Unlike other schools in the area, when it comes time for the pomp and circumstance of commencement, Bishop Garcia Diego High School heads far off campus.

On Saturday morning, as per the school's custom, a small-ish graduating class and a sizable audience gathered in the glorious ambience of the Courthouse Sunken Garden to send off and acknowledge the achievements of the Class of 2017.

Although the private school itself sits on a property near San Roque, just below La Colina Junior High School, this institution, in fact, has roots downtown.

As Interim Head of School Dr. Nicholas Vitalari reminded Saturday's gathering, the high school's history dates back to 1914, when the first Santa Barbara Catholic High School was started, on the site of Our Lady of Sorrows church, just a few blocks from the courthouse.

As of this weekend, the Class of 2017 became a proud piece of the school's 100-plus year history. As a bonus matter of historical continuity, Dr. Vitalari also called out an alumnus in the crowd, Sister Ruth Ella, from the Class of 1946 and a great aunt of a 2017 graduate.

Saturday's event kicked off with a processional and invocation, led by Bennet Burnes and Claire Velez, the student head and second marshals, respectively.

Brolin Parris, a graduating senior who plans to go into musical studies, gave a strong, resounding form to the national anthem, sent out into the Sunken Garden air.

Mr. Vitalari spoke of the school's agenda as "a supremely honorable endeavor, to educate the entire person, the intellect, the heart, the soul, and thereby provide a solid foundation for life."

"Graduation is a profound and magnificent event," he told the crowd. "It is profound because graduation from high school marks a major transition point in our lives. It is a magnificent event, because we recognize four years of academic accomplishments, bestow a degree, and mark a powerful launch point for your future.

"Graduates, treasure this day. The memories you take with you from the last four years will become some of the most poignant and lasting memories of your entire life. As you experience these commencement exercise, my deepest hope is not only that you experience pride as you walk across the stage today, but most importantly, that you feel a rising sense of confidence built on a foundation of many hours of hard work and the deep friendships you have forged here."

This year's commencement speech duty and honor went to Ronald Cortes, vice chancellor of Administrative and Business Services at UC Irvine whose now-grown children both graduated from Bishop.

During his speech he called on salient quotes from John F. Kennedy and the book of Proverbs, and noted, "as Maya Angelou states, 'You can never be great at anything unless you love it.' There is no greater accomplishment than to have lived a life full of passion.

"As Bishop graduates, you have a phenomenal educational background and spiritual foundation, so using the full strength of your powers will become refined throughout the years. But the question remains as to how one determines the lines of excellence in pursuing happiness.

"With so much information available, you can just Google or ask Alexa or Siri for an answer. However, for those of you who would like to ask Ron, here are my three pieces of advice for you: Own your own mind, be resilient and find your passion."

Two student commencement speeches mixed insider's wisdom, humor and solidarity with colleagues.

Salutatorian Emily Condon is headed off to the University of Pennsylvania next year (thus opting to quote that school's founder, Ben Franklin), and Valedictorian Adrianna Kowblansky aims to follow a pre-med track at the University of Notre Dame.

Miss Condon observed that "Urban Dictionary says that the salutatorian is 'the person who just missed being the Valedictorian by just a few GPA points, a very miserable person, indeed. Second place is just the first loser.' I don't know about you, but it sounds to me that that definition was written by a valedictorian."

On a more serious note, she drew on relevant wisdom from Ben Franklin: " 'The secret to success is constancy to purpose.' Knowledge is not something that's supposed to sit and look good. It's supposed to be something useful."

She later pointed out that "This is the first important step in discovering our individual and collective potential. As each name is called today, I hope each of us will reflect on the successes that have brought us here, and those that we will cultivate in the future."

Miss Kowblansky continued with a similar theme in her speech, at one point calling on a telling quote by Dostoevsky: " 'People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memories are perhaps the best education.' "

She added, "we cherish these memories, as they define much of our experience at Bishop, and we all have these uniting factors in common.

"As the sun rose on this new day, marking the end of our four years at Bishop Diego High School, we step into what some call the real world. But the memories, lessons and triumphs will always be carried with us. To quote Mark Twain, 'Throw off the bow lines. Sail way from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.'

"These past four years have shaped us into the young adults we are set to become. And although we leave this place, it will never leave us."


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Bishop Diego HS
Bishop Garcia Diego High School

  4000 La Colina Road
Santa Barbara, CA 93110
General Information: Extension 101
Admissions Office: Extension 118