Oakton High School’s Class of 2021 was undeterred by the pandemic and sees the world with kaleidoscopic vision, student speaker Sara Razavi said at the June 9 graduation ceremony.
“Even as black holes may drain our very hope and light, we still manage to contradict the laws of physics and still hope and dream,” Razavi said. “Oakton has taught us . . . to be resilient no matter the circumstances.”
She advised the graduates to spread love and happiness around the world.
“Remember: We are persistent, we are brave, we are bold, we are change, we are the universe. We are Oakton,” Razavi said at the ceremony, held at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow.
Class representative Alina McEvoy asked the audience to honor students entering military, ROTC programs and service academies, as well as active-duty and retired service members in attendance.
Graduating senior Audria Aidun, acting on behalf of the class, presented its 2021 Teacher of the Year Award to math teacher Laura Fitzsimmons.
Principal Jamie Lane gave the school’s highest honor, the Faculty Award, to Kevina Wang.
Lane encouraged the graduates to tackle life “unapologetically and fearlessly” while staying true to themselves and echoed those sentiments with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be yourself, in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else, is the greatest accomplishment.”
“Stay true to your morals and who you are, regardless of what life throws at you,” Lane added. “And if you ever need a little help or guidance, remember you will always have a home at Oakton. We will always believe in you and always cheer you on because we know you are capable of truly amazing things.”
History and social studies teacher and athletics coach Ben Kaplan, selected by the class to give the faculty address, praised the students’ toughness during the pandemic and said they had grown up and thrived in the competitive pressure cooker that is Northern Virginia. He offered nuggets of wisdom to aid them in the future.
“Control what you can control,” he said. “Too often we get bogged down and limit our focus to the uncontrollable things in life: other people’s opinions, other people’s accomplishments, the pressures of life after high school, a global pandemic.”
But by shifting to things they can control, such as their attitude, energy, effort, confidence and response to adversity, the graduates can make their lives less stressful, Kaplan said.
“Our perspective becomes our reality,” he said. “So what we focus on becomes what impacts us.”
Kaplan urged the graduates to be present, focus on the tasks they’re facing and not be distracted by happenings past, present or future.
“Don’t dwell on past mistakes, learn from them,” he said. “Don’t worry about future outcomes. Do your best to prepare for them. The time is now and the place is here.”
Kaplan recommended that students trust the process when pursuing goals and not merely focus on the end results.
“What do you need to do today in order to get 1-percent better?” he asked. “Do it again tomorrow. Do it again the next day. The process is where we turn big goals into small, daily tasks.”
Failures will be part of their journeys, but they should not be afraid to take risks, make mistakes and learn lessons from them, Kaplan said.
“Get outside your comfort zone and get comfortable being uncomfortable,” he said. “Don’t shy away from challenges. Setbacks will happen.”
Kaplan ended with a quote from the late Kobe Bryant: “We don’t quit, we don’t cower, we don’t run. We endure.”
After viewing a tribute video with a performance of “We Won’t Stop Dreaming” by the Oakton High School Singers, the students walked across the stage to receive their diplomas from Lane. The principal then performed the final ritual, instructing the class members to turn their tassels from left to right and confirming their graduation.