Here are the experiences of our students in their own words. These speeches were given by our students at the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2017.
Jeffrey Hernandez-Solis - Salutatorian
Good evening. On behalf of the Class of 2017 I would like to welcome you all to tonight’s Commencement Exercises for the graduating seniors of Arroyo Pacific Academy.
I remember the summer of 2013. That year I was first introduced to one of the most colorful personalities at our school, Mr. Flagg, and the conversational teaching style that would persist in almost all of my English classes here at APA. I met Jad, the loud and annoying, but friendly and loveable kid. I met Will, who at that point was not as confident as he is today, yet always had a tremendous amount of intellect lurking behind his smile. I met Lavinia, who was quiet and reserved like most new international students at APA before they let their personality and spirit shine.
Of course I was shy as well, afraid to talk to the others for fear of ruining my relationship with them. Much like everyone starting out that year, or for that matter anyone starting out new at APA, we had not yet grown into the people we are today. This school was instrumental in helping everyone who stayed for all four years come into their own, not only as students but as individuals. Whether it be the approachable and helpful teachers, or the many specialized programs that helped us find what interested us and improve at it, APA was always sure to offer all the programs we needed to succeed.
Thanks to all of my classes, especially my APs, I have discovered new perspectives, expanded my critical thinking skills, and worked at becoming a better filmmaker. I will always owe my future success to teachers like Mr. Wilson who taught me how to film and edit movies, Mr. Johnson who expanded my writing and thinking skills, Mr. Yeager who gave me valuable insights into America and its History, Mr. Blackman and Mrs. Tufenkdjian who showed me the valuable principles of human nature and choice as well as how those structures work and interact in the real world, Mrs. Ramsey and Ms. Bermejo who allowed me to get my hands dirty working on theater, Mrs. Collazo who was perhaps the greatest math teacher I have ever had, and of course every other teacher I have had the pleasure of learning from, who together have transformed the shy 14 year old who stepped into Mr. Flagg’s classroom in 2013 into the person reading this speech today. Thank you.
William Borrelli - Valedictorian
Welcome friends, family, faculty and graduates. Graduating from high school is an incredibly important moment in life. It is often seen as the first step towards venturing into the real world and to becoming an adult. Whenever I think about the implications of maturing from adolescence to adulthood, the advice of C.S. Lewis comes to mind. The core of his message is that, when faced with this turning point in our lives, it is important to not shy away from what is deemed childish or to be overly concerned with acting grown up.
This message resonates with me as I believe when beginning our transition to adulthood it is easy to feel the need to conform to what you may think it means to be an adult… rather, we should grow by finding adulthood through our experiences.
I remember when I first started high school at Arroyo Pacific Academy I had a very hard time trying to figure out who I was going to be as many young teenagers often do. I was at a loss with how to go about maturing and finding friends and interests and... looking back, what I lacked at the time was simply experiences. Over the years I met many close friends, bonded with several teachers, and took classes that pushed me to do things I never thought I could possibly do.
Arroyo Pacific Academy is truly a community. A community I was so quickly and genuinely welcomed into immediately after stepping through the door nearly four years ago. Like many of you, the first person I met was Ms. Deagon. She truly acts as the mom of every student even down to the begrudging “good morning...” when you arrive late to school. Whenever the stress and anxiety of life overwhelmed me I knew that I always had someone I could go to anytime I needed support. I remember retreating to the chair next to the front desk countless times seeking the kind words she always seemed to have ready. Thank you Ms. Deagon.
As a young and anxious freshman and sophomore, I needed a mentor to help guide and advise me - I found Mr. Blackman. I spent many an afternoon sitting in his office, doing homework, reading, talking about classes. If I ever needed to discuss an idea with someone or just have a quiet place to work his door was always open… I was often there. It was through the support of both Ms. Deagon and Mr. Blackman that I gained a foothold of confidence during the beginning of my high school journey. I can surely say without them it would not have been possible to be where I am today. They have instilled in me the importance for having a strong support structure, and moving into college I will seek out mentors and friends for support, and be sure to help others as both Ms. Deagon and Mr. Blackman supported me.
When I began seeking a deeper involvement in school it was Mr. Yaeger who convinced me to not only run for ASB, but also take AP US History. Looking past the ever-present Friends references and obsession for plaid button-ups, I have yet to come across a teacher that is more involved and genuinely interested in the lives of the students that he teaches. Mr. Yaeger teaches history with enough passion for even me, as someone who does not generally enjoy the subject, to look forward to his classes. This enthusiasm extends into student government. Over this past year of being school president, I often received early morning messages and late night emails, discussing the final details of Prom, or the gallons of ice cream we needed to purchase for fundraisers. Without his support I would not have had the confidence to run for President or speak in front of the entire school. He has shown me the importance of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and moving forward I will find ways to challenge myself like he challenged me.
It was Dr. Huang who inspired in me a passion for science and the drive to pursue a degree in chemistry. Dr. Huang is often heralded for many things; among them - speaking German, being a doctor, having jumped out of several airplanes; however, I cannot emphasize enough how greatly his enthusiasm for chemistry has impacted me. Though I have never actually seen him jump out of an airplane, he brings that level of excitement to everything he teaches by approaching it with boundless fervor and motivation. Watching him teach is like watching an action movie filled with lots of pacing and animated hand gestures and a shocking amount of Star Wars references sprinkled in. He taught me to take on challenges with confidence and to always persevere no matter how difficult the obstacle may be.
It was through these experiences and relationships that I grew to be the person I am now. Our shared experiences of Arroyo Pacific and all of our future paths define us at this moment. Though we are all going off to very different places to do very different things, I urge everyone to embrace whatever life throws at us with fervor. Whether our future gives us opportunities or obstacles, everything we experience moving on will affect us greatly and help us become the impactful and successful people Arroyo Pacific Academy has prepared us to be. Thank you.
Amber Zhang - Reflection Speech
Good evening, everyone. Most of you guys you might know my name. I’m Amber Zhang. It’s a great honor to speak in front of you all today. I have been in Arroyo Pacific Academy for two years, and many of you who have been here the same amount of time have witnessed the change which has happened to me. I came straight out from a top rigid Chinese high school in Guangzhou to America. There, I was being told studying is the most important thing and everything else should be put behind that. So, when I first arrived at APA, I was shy and afraid of speaking in public, even though my English was decent at that time. However, the time in APA completely changed me. The atmosphere of everyone willing to collaborate with each other and the abundant opportunities offered to students to get involved in different kinds of activities and explore their interests and depths at such a young age - I think that’s what makes APA unique.
Before I came to APA, if you asked me a question like, “What did you do in high school?” my answer would just be I was studying. But right now, after two years here, this question became almost impossible to answer. I did four plays, two fashion shows, became a senior representative, was almost in every school concert, created three clubs and made five short films in two years with the help of Media Production. It is such a wonderful experience APA has offered me. It makes me become even more open-minded and start to value my life in a different way. Here, I found my passion for my life.
Music. I think speaking of APA, music is something which definitely cannot be left out. The big music department at APA, is led by the nicest and most generous teacher, Mr. Creason. I can guarantee you that every single APA student has been in Band and played at least one instrument one time. It is such a diverse and friendly community that the school and Mr. Creason built up. Here, people always encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. Here, never say you are a guitar player, because you just give up the chance of being a vocalist, drummer, bass player, or even a tech member. At APA, you never have just one position. It is a community where you can keep switching places and exchanging exciting ideas with your partners. Moreover, Mr. Creason always invites other professional players from the industry to collaborate with us on our pieces of music. Even right now, I’m surprised by how much courage APA has given me and helping me to achieve my potential growth in only two years.
Media production is another class that has changed me. People say if you have a dream, go try to achieve it. Don’t wait until you are old and regret that you haven’t done it in your life. That’s how I feel for filmmaking. It is something that is really exciting and definitely inspiring. Media production gave me opportunities to grow on that and gain experience for working on an industry standard in film. Mr. Wilson, just like Mr. Creason, is also one of the nicest and most generous teachers in the world. I really need to thank Mr. Wilson and not only that, but also the school, for giving us resources to have such an exciting department.
I’m more of an artistic person, so music and media production have left on me the strongest impression. But really every teacher in APA has been so amazing that has influenced me and helped me grow a lot. Ms. Fuszara’s dance class is the best and the advice she has given me to follow my dream will always stick in my heart. Ms. Ramsey and Ms. Bemejo taught me how to not be afraid on stage and to be confident in showing each character on stage with my own color and thoughts. Mr. Chan is the coolest teacher, but always secretly devotes himself in helping his students and giving them support. Mr. Johnson is the most helpful and generous teacher, especially when it comes to things about college. He always offers truly great advice from the bottom of his heart. Dr. Huang’s smile lights up every student’s life in APA. His saying, “Life is beautiful, don’t give up, kiddo!” will stay forever in my heart. Also, our best ASB leader Mr. Yaeger, without you, APA won’t be as great. And if you are thinking what class you are going to take next year, please take Ms. Tufenkdjian’s AP Psychology class, because she is really the best and nicest. She not only helps you on academic achievement but also she will answer any questions you have in life. She is like a friend. And if Ms. Tufenkdjian doesn’t have time to help you, always go find Jennifer Tseng. She will be like a sister to you, and almost do you any favor you request, because she is the best. And my most strict AP Calculus teacher Mr. Nguyen, thank you for always pushing me to turn in homework and to keep studying AP Calculus. You make getting a 5 easy. I also want to thank Ms. Burke for always supporting me on my music, Ms. Edwards for her great advice on my art career, Mr. San-Martin for his devotion to school sports, Ms. Rendon for her fun Spanish class, and Mr. Conley for his efforts with the Interact Club. I also wish I could have gotten a chance to take Ms. Collazo’s, Mr. Moghaddam’s, Mr. Bensinger’s, Ms. Schield’s, Ms. Lee’s, and Ms. Meng’s class, because I heard they were challenging and fun at the same time. Moreover, Mr. Blackman, Mr. Walley, Ms. Deagon, Ms. Mimi, Ms. Martha, Mr. Clarke, Terry and Bryan. Thank you all! Without you guys APA won’t be APA.
The last thing I want to mention are friends. Meeting great people helped me become a better person too. Ann, Judy and Nina are the cutest girls I ever met. Kingsly is such a talented friend, just spending time with him will inspire me and I hope he will succeed in the future in both music and filmmaking. I have faith in you, Kingsly. Jack is going to Australia for college. I believe people like you for sure will survive there and make a lot of friends. Just remember, study more!!! Vincent is also a very talented friend. I see great potential in him and I’m sure he will be really successful in the future. Vincent, always believe in yourself. Hamzah is also a really sweet, smart, and funny friend. I will miss you so much. And Morgan too. After a lot of things, I still think you are a sweet girl with a bright future. Good luck! Daniel is a really nice friend, but likes cats too much. I believe you will become a good doctor! Ibrahim is also a really talented guitar player, and the nicest person ever. Olivia and Charles, keep playing music, never give up! Ray, keep drawing! Angel, keep dancing, you are a good dancer! And everyone in the Media Production team - Diego, Justin, Edward, thank you for fighting until the last moment for Media Production. I also hope ASB will have a really bright future with the greatest new president, Tanner Sherlock. Truly, there are a lot of people I’m going to miss at APA. It’s a school that has left me with a lot of great memories in my life.
Finally, I want to share my favorite saying for life, that is, “Always go out of your comfort zone.” Because when you go out of your comfort zone, that is when new magical things happen to your life. I guess that’s why I’m going to New York. I will start my new journey there. And that’s it. Peace out, APA. I love you and will miss you so much. Thank you.
Brendan Mitchell - Reflection Speech
Coming into Arroyo Pacific, I was a bit of a mess. An understatement really... my academic record was riddled with freshman year sins, and my lack of motivation did not align with my ambition. A decade of schools with bloated class sizes left me feeling ignored and alone in my educational journey. Teachers and classes could not divert the necessary time to the individual and as a result, I was afraid to seek help. This led me to enter high school with poor study habits and put forth lacking effort. My time at AP changed this. Arroyo Pacific has always focused on the individual. From a fifteen student class limit to engaged teachers, Arroyo Pacific does not let its students become just another number in their enrollment. This level of dedication to the individual has facilitated my growth over the last three and a half years and is what I ultimately attribute my college readiness and admission success to.
When I entered Arroyo Pacific mid-freshman year, I was full of delusional views of my scholastic future. I spoke to our college counselor regularly of my plans to go to a top university on the East Coast; while bearing an academic record that could generously be rounded to “passing”. Needless to say, my academic record did not mirror my ambition. However, with the help of dedicated faculty members and accessible office hours I was able to make improvements, and ultimately, amend my blemished record. These improvements were small at first, but in due time I was enrolled in advanced placement courses and was receiving my first 4.0 report card. When the college admission process came around, I saw no exception to this dedication from my teachers. From Mr. Bensinger, Mr. Yaeger, and Mrs. Ramsey all taking the time to graciously write me letters of recommendation, to Mr. Johnson spending countless hours helping me write essays and navigate the applications, I was never alone in the process.
That feeling of support is just as mirrored by the student body at Arroyo Pacific. I have never been without friends during my tenure at AP. Joining Arroyo Pacific mid-freshman year meant that friendships had been established and groups had been formed. At any other school building friendships in this situation would pose a significant endeavor. But not at Arroyo Pacific. Entering AP I knew only the resident comedian, Jad Barakat, a distant friend from elementary school who made sure to bring me into his group promptly after enrollment. To repay him, my then new friend Will and I pushed him into a pool while filming our group science project, and needless to say, we all became good friends soon after. Arroyo Pacific has been the platform for which the vast majority of my friendships today have been built on. From seemingly endless games of Risk in the Board Game Club to “Fun in the Sun” water balloon fights during spirit week, APA has allowed me to form friendships that I hope to maintain indefinitely.
While I have never had any issues forming friendships in the past, I thought the mixed breakdown of international and domestic students at APA might pose an issue to my adjustment. I expected that I would know one part of the school without ever being able to connect with the other. I’ve never been happier to be so wrong. Some of the closest friendships I have built at this school have come from Steven Yang’s antics in our weekly student government meetings, to teasing Daniel Lam for his love-hate relationship with bbq chips, to even mistaking Waymen for his brother Parker whenever his glasses are off. This unique international population in our student body continues to be one of the best aspects of Arroyo Pacific. APA offers domestic students an opportunity to learn first-hand about distant cultures while creating a safe environment for international students to practice their English and adapt to American high school life. This distinct part of my time at Arroyo Pacific has grown my interest in travel and world culture exponentially and is a large reason I plan to study abroad in the coming years.
When reflecting on my time at APA, I would be remiss to not mention the school’s ability to facilitate and aid my mind’s sprawl of ideas. Whether it be Mr. Clarke gifting my video game club a new TV, or inviting me into his WASC school evaluation group, there has been no limit to my ability to be involved in the school. The administration has allowed me to create without limit and as a result, I can so proudly boast an ASB-run recycling program, school-wide video game tournaments, and Prom memories that I will cherish. Outside of the Associated Student Body I have had the honor of working with Mr. Wilson on the last seven school plays, and have learned many valuable skills from building sets to hanging and programming lights. My time at Arroyo Pacific has been a very rewarding experience, one that has had me excited to attend school every morning, even if I am a little late. Thank you.
Steven Yang - Reflection Speech
Dear parents, teachers, and students, I feel extremely honored to deliver a speech in front of you all today. My story started four years ago when I entered the school as a freshman. At that time, we were all young and immature. Thinking that we knew everything, counting the periods pass by so that we could hang out with friends. In the blink of an eye, here I am, standing before you, reflecting on our legacy at APA and extremely thankful for everyone here that has made me the person I am today.
When I first came to this school, naturally, I asked upperclassmen about which teachers are the hardest. That was my first time I heard the name "Mr. Chan". It was pretty much unanimous by every student I asked. So naturally, I really tried my best to avoid Mr. Chan’s class. However, with my luck I was assigned to his class first period of my first semester. Mr. Chan’s class was really hard, but I found that he was very kind and enjoyed making jokes. He treated us with respect and patience and I really want to thank to Mr. Chan for being so strict with us. He shaped us into responsible individuals, ready to face challenges both inside and outside the classroom.
Mr. Yeager is my favorite history teacher, and just like you said, I am your favorite Canadian-Chinese student. The first time we met was my freshman year. The first talk we had was about my application to join ASB. That was the first time I tried to get involved at this new school, and his friendly nature encouraged me a lot to join more school activities. As time flew by, Yeager became a friend to me, and we talked a lot during study hall every day. He was also the person who made me try an AP class, and I did it with his help. APUSH (AP US History) was my first AP class. The things I learned were not as important as the people I met. Brendan, Will, and Diego, all of them are my sweet classmates, and I feel so lucky to have met all of you, and I will miss those times for sure. However, Yeager's little “secrets” have been discovered by all of us. Number seven, with the Friends reference is his favorite, and corn is our favorite thing ever. When I was elected to become vice president of ASB, I did so because you believed I could do a good job.
Ms. Fuszara, the moments in our ELD class are still vivid in my mind. Thanks for sharing your stories with us and undoubtedly my English improved a lot in your class. Finally, I just want to remind you, please do not forget my invitation to your wedding.
Taking AP Chinese class in an American school seems kind of weird. When I chose this class, I actually thought this was an easy chance to raise my GPA; however, I was totally wrong. Ms. Meng showed how deep and big Chinese history can be, and many of the events and the ancient language I had never heard of before. Ms. Meng treated us as her children. She is not just a teacher for us, she is more like a friend. She shared her experiences with us, and taught us ways of being a man or women with the right attitude to do things. That’s what we were lacking. Translating Chinese to English was not an easy job, because many ancient words in Chinese have no way to translate into English, but I want to thank Ms. Meng for all she has taught me.
The other thing I want to talk about is the other part of my high school life, my classmates. Arroyo Pacific Academy seems like a small school, but this school contains something unique. In these four years I can see how great this school did in blending cultures together. American, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, and Mexican - all of us shared our story, culture, and language everyday in school. Learning with many classmates from different countries and cultures is a rare opportunity for everyone. However, there is never any discrimination in this school, because we are all friends and we help each other. Today, I want to suggest to people, that you may not like someone, but do not let hate block your eyes. Every nation has good and bad, so try to find those good things and cherish them, the same as I cherish all the friends I made at this school.
Today, I want to say thanks to my family and I wish to represent for all graduating students by saying thanks to our parents and host parents. However, for me it is a little bit different. I want to thank my uncle and aunt, who took care of my daily life for four years. They are not my parents, but they treated me like their own child. Sometimes I might have complained about my uncle, aunt, and parents’ rules and requirements, but I know that they have my best interest at heart. Because we are teenagers, it means we do not have enough life experiences to make the correct decision all the time. We need our parents to tell us and give us suggestions. However, sometimes parents worry too, so we should not feel angry or sad about them. Times are changing. The world we are living in today is totally different than when they grew up. Communication is key to building a great relationship with them.
It is my honor to tell everyone today that I am graduating from Arroyo Pacific Academy. This school has changed me a lot, and played a major role in my adolescence. It is time to say goodbye, even though I do not want to say it, but all goods things have to come to an end. I hope all the students who are graduating today will fly high and accomplish every goal they set out to achieve. APA taught me to always challenge myself, and my challenge to all of you is the same, to do everything in your power to reach your full potential. The bond we built in these past four years will last us a lifetime.