PaliHi Graduates a Record 753 in the Class of 2024

There were 753 students, who graduated from Palisades High School.
Photo: RICH SCHMITT/CTN

It was overcast with “June Gloom” during the Palisades High School graduation on June 6 at 3 p.m.  The ceremony started with the processional “Pomp and Circumstance” played by the school orchestra and concert band.

The Class of 2024 was unique because the student’s freshman year was spent online because of Covid: not the way most people would anticipate starting high school.

Photo: RICH SCHMITT/CTN

When the ceremony ended two hours later, the 753 students walked up to the PaliHi quad for the last time. As they did, the clouds started breaking and a blue sky seemed to be a harbinger of a positive new chapter in their lives.

Student body president Rustin Kharrazi led the Pledge of Allegiance. A trio of seniors, Theo King, Delaney Hutchinson and Jiya Kumar, sang a rendition of the National Anthem that was haunting, patriotic and inspiring.

The multi-lingual welcome, which is a PaliHi’s graduation tradition, included 26 hellos in languages as diverse as Afrikaans, Lgbo, Tagalog, Urdu and even sign language.

Photo: RICH SCHMITT/CTN

Principal and Executive Director Dr. Pam Magee acknowledged that this was one of the largest graduating classed that Pali has celebrated. She acknowledged that the students had advocated for equity and for human rights and “I look forward to seeing the impact you bring to the future,” she said.

The special guest speaker this year was Allison Holdorff Polhill, who is the senior advisor for LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin. Before obtaining that position, she was active on the PaliHi Board of Trustees. She is also the mother of three adult children, who had graduated from Pali.

She suggested that graduates continue to prepare for the future by taking a financial literacy class, spend more time with friends, ask parents and grandparents about their high school years and lives and to “take time to think.”

Polihill said that “the world is not changed by grand sweeping gestures, but in little ways,” which could include treating one another nicer.  To make changes, one needs “smarts, guts and ingenuity.”

“I wish for you more than success,” she said. “I wish you happiness and joy.”

Chukwunonso Kojo-Onwaeze
Photo: RICH SCHMITT/CTN

The welcome address was given by senior class president Chukwunonso Kojo-Onwaeze, who moved to America and the Palisades in 2020 from Lagos, Nigeria. He was one of 10 students out of 17,000 selected to receive a Posse Foundation scholarship, which awarded him a full-ride to Northwestern University.  He spoke about coming to the U.S. and “fear was always around me, but I was determined to make the world my own. I did.

“We are ready for the next phase of our lives,” Kojo-Onwaeze said. “It’s time to step out and face the unknown. The unknown is simply a canvas waiting for us to fill it.”

The Valedictorian this year was Matthew S. Lee, who wanted to celebrate not only the academics they had all achieved, but also the resiliency. “We conquered traffic on PCH and the math department,” he joked. Their freshman year was online and the sophomore year they all had to wear masks. “The secret of resilience is it is created by special memories,” Lee said.

Valedictorian Matthew S. Lee
Photo: RICH SCHMITT/CTN

He spoke of a time when he was part of a group representing PaliHi at a science bowl. One of the members of the group had a seizure.  Everyone was uncertain about what to do next. “Do we pull out? Do we go on in honor of our friend?” he asked. They elected to go forward.

“Resiliency is not just about dealing with hardship,” he said. “It’s also about holding onto memories.”

Speaker Naila Ezekiel said she had often thought about the next stage of her life after graduation, but “now that I’m here. I’m scared of what’s next.”

She said although she’ll miss PaliHi, “I’m ready. Don’t let fear take over.”

Ezekiel concluded “No amount of guilt will change the past, no amount of anxiety will change the future.”

Photo: RICH SCHMITT/CTN

The final student speaker was Anisa Watkins. “I feel ready to say goodbye. I’m ready to appreciate life: Pali taught me to live out of my comfort zone,” she said.

“No matter what obstacles we face, we need to go through them,” Watkins said. “Whatever you do, give your heart to it.”

Senior vocalists and instrumentalist took the stage for the final time at Pali, as they presented a musical interlude “Pali High Graduation Medley 2024.” It was arranged and conducted by seniors Kumar and Jean Rodriguez.

Director of Academic Programs and Guidance Dr. Chris Lee told students, as parents and family, which had packed the stadium to capacity listened “as you learned, high school is a place to make mistakes. By embracing our mistakes, we learn from them.

“Mistakes don’t define us, they are steppingstones to our future,” Lee said, and then turned to Magee and said, “I present you the resilient class of 2024.”

All 753 names of the class were read and the ceremony was also live streamed for those unable to get tickets.

The two-hour ceremony was well-orchestrated thanks to event producer Nancy Fracciolla, who also serves as a drama teacher at PaliHi and is also a Palisades resident.

Photo: RICH SCHMITT/CTN

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