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East County Wednesday, Jul. 22, 2020 3 weeks ago

Message of resilience to East County graduates

Local graduation speakers will remind classmates of their strength during the pandemic.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Since fifth grade, Isabella Macias wanted to make a speech at her high school graduation and to be one of the top students in her class.

“I wanted to show people that that’s something I could do,” said Macias, who is graduating from Braden River High School. “When I was in elementary school, I had a little difficulty pronouncing words. I took speech therapy, and there’s always been people in my life that have told me I couldn’t do it, or it was impossible or difficult. But I improved my speech.” 

Isabella Macias, a graduating senior at Braden River High School, wants to remind her classmates of their resilience and strength during the pandemic. Courtesy photo.

Macias took every Advanced Placement class she could to get college credits and participated in several extracurriculars from National Honor Society to the Unidos Now Club and more.

On July 28, Macias will stand in front of her family, teachers and fellow classmates and their families to share a message about the class of 2020: “We’re still here.”

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the end of their senior years and special moments, such as prom and senior night. It almost canceled graduation ceremonies.

But Macias, Christina Williams and Mira Khazanchi now have the opportunity to deliver their message, and they want to remind their classmates of their resilience in pushing past any COVID-19 obstacles while continuing to make an impact on their communities.

Christina Williams, a graduating senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, wants her speech to resonate with every student graduating this year. Courtesy photo.

Williams, a graduating senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, moved to Lakewood Ranch her sophomore year and was overwhelmed by the sheer number of students. When she found out she would be making a speech at graduation July 29 as senior class president, Williams knew she wanted her speech to resonate with every student.

She plans to share some of her high school experiences and how that can help in her future. She’ll encourage her classmates to do the same, whether their experiences were positive or negative.

“I would want them to know they’re never alone,” Williams said. “They should never forget how much resilience and strength they have because they got through COVID-19.”

In her three years at the school, she saw herself grow as a person and realized who she wanted to be. Williams met several different types of people at school through her time on the senior advisory board, being class president and being the captain of the girls varsity basketball team.

“I used to be indecisive and not really know what I wanted to do with my life,” Williams said. “I wanted to please everyone. I wanted everyone’s opinion all the time to know what path I should take and what I should do. I never really thought about asking myself. I learned to just always be kind and stay true to yourself and just follow what you want to do.”

Throughout the pandemic, Khazanchi, a graduating senior at The Out-of-Door Academy, has seen herself and her class become social activists in their communities tackling such topics as racial injustice, immigration and the environment.

“We shouldn’t want to be remembered as the COVID class of 2020 but rather as the group of individuals who sought change in our communities because a lot of us, I feel, have actually grown during this quarantine, especially with all of the crises going on,” Khazanchi said.

Khazanchi, who is this year’s valedictorian at ODA, had taken eight AP courses throughout her four years, played on the girls basketball team and developed a nonprofit, Barkin Beanies, where she crochets hats for dogs with the proceeds donated to the Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch.

She considers her biggest success to be from her junior year when she developed a photography portfolio addressing immigration rights. She told the story of her grandparents, Daljit and Jagjitnar, immigrating from India to the U.S. in photos. 

Mira Khazanchi, a graduation senior at Out-of-Door Academy, encourages her classmates to continue to be active in their communities. Courtesy photo.

“It was incredible,” she said. “I was able to learn more about my family’s history through that project. I started asking my grandmother more and more questions. Once I started that project, I realized this is an important topic that more people need to be educated about.”

During her speech, Khazanchi will encourage her classmates to make their voices heard and stand up for what they believe.

Macias wants to remind her class of all they’ve accomplished at Braden River and the memories they’ve shared.

“I’m so proud of our class and how we’ve navigated through the chaos,” she said. “We went through online classes; we had stay-at-home orders and just the general stress of having pretty much our lives being upended at such a critical point in our high school careers but remaining connected despite our physical distance.”

Macias, who wants to be an astrophysicist, will sprinkle space references throughout her speech. She has wanted to enter a career related to space since her third grade teacher gave her a book about the sun.

“I just fell in love with it,” she said. “I thought it was amazing. I thought it was super cool that we were practically a little speck of dust in an ever expanding universe. … If I didn’t incorporate [space] in my speech, it wouldn’t be my speech.”

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