SPHS Class of 2020 | Students Reflect on Historic School Year

With the coronavirus forcing distance-learning, unusual graduations, coupled with the death of George Floyd, causing rioting and unrest throughout the country, South Pasadena High students were dealt a bad hand in 2020, but SPHS graduates weathered the storm as some talked about what’s next as they face new challenges and dreams in life

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | SPHS Class of 2020 Drive-Thru Graduation; "Quarantine Class of 2020"

Unusual times marked the end for South Pasadena High grads, making their departure with stark memories of distance learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, followed by protests across America due to the death of George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.

Chalk it up to changing circumstances and the new normal as SPHS graduates look to heading off to colleges near and far to further their education in a world seemingly turned upside down for the Class of 2020.

Celebratory yard signs, drive-thru graduations and virtual ceremonies on computer screens are the theme of the day as school districts like the one in South Pasadena went through great lengths to make the occasion memorable for the grads closing the door on life in high school.

Teryn Kum, 18, who leaves the SPHS campus for U.C. Irvine to study software engineering, would like to have a last get together with her class, “possibly a yearbook signing so we can all wish each other well and say goodbye,” she said.

Many of the events that mark a person’s senior year of high school like prom, the farewell assembly and, yes, yearbook signings, sadly didn’t take place this year. 

As freshman students look to nurture their education at the high school level in the fall, Kum’s advice is for them is to  “enjoy your time on and off-campus because the years go by so fast,” she explained. “Make sure to have a good balance between schoolwork, social life, and self-care.”

While students experienced the uneasiness, frustration and stress of not enjoying the traditions of most seniors, some expressed their memories in a positive way after their time at South Pasadena High. All shared advice for those coming to the school as 9th graders in the fall for in-person instruction if COVID-19 isn’t a threat.

Ryan Wallace, 18, plans on attending Pasadena City College, before transferring and majoring in film, television and electronic media, with a desire of becoming a producer in the industry some day.

“The close bonds I formed with my friends, my great teachers, and lunches on the quad,” is what Wallace will miss most, before recommending to the freshman class. “Take school seriously from the very start. Slacking off early will do a lot of harm later on that you will regret.”

Soon to be turning 18 will be Kenneth Schultz, who will be heading off to Columbia University in New York in the fall to major in English. “I’m not entirely sure what I want to do professionally,” he said. “However, my shortlist includes higher education, politics, or journalism.”

Like others, Schultz will hold memories “with my friends dear,” he said of leaving South Pasadena High. “In a more professional context, high school was the place where I discovered what my passions are. I had played saxophone for years, but it was in Mr. Crawford’s jazz ensemble that I discovered how much I loved to perform music. I had always been a bookworm, but it was my experience with English teachers like Mr. Afram and Mr. Zavidow that solidified my investment in great writing.”

His advice to freshmen, like Wallace, is to start early. “Don’t wait until senior year to take health, like I did,” he said. “Also don’t wait until the very end to get your community service hours in. Pace yourself, be responsible. Often times we experience the greatest stress because we afford ourselves periods of time in which we let what we need to do slip by. Resting after getting your work done is vastly more fulfilling than trying to relax before you’ve completed what you need to.”

The University of California, Berkeley, is the next educational stop for Ashley Fox, as the 18-year-old plans to major in public health, and professionally becoming a cardio thoracic surgeon, or work in a job tied to the medical field.

“The memories I would like to take away from South Pasadena are those filled with happy times with friends,” she said. “Whether in class or out of school, the times with my friends have been the happiest. I also would like to remember how kind and welcoming the teachers at South Pasadena High School are. They are truly willing to sit down and have a conversation with you about anything.”

Her advice for incoming freshmen is “to be nice to others,” she said, while adding, “It is truly worth it to go out of your way to be nice. It not only helps others feel loved, but it will help you to feel happy. Being nice is not hard. It is one of the easiest things you can do. Besides being nice, I would recommend always doing the homework the day it is assigned, not the day before it is due. It frees up your schedule so much, and it makes it feel like you have less work to complete. Get in this habit early and you will be set for all of high school.”

Manav Shah, 18, looks to major in integrated digital media at New York University with an ambition to someday become a video game developer. “My best memories are all the fun times I’ve had goofing off with my friends in fun classes such as animation, computer science, and in all the classes I have TA’d in with friends,” said Shah. “French, though not super fun, was an easy class to goof off in and still do well.”

For incoming freshmen, Shah’s best piece of advice “is that you should definitely attempt to take classes with your friends,” she encouraged. “Your counselors may tell you that this is not a priority or not important (because of lunch and brunch socializing), but I promise you that it will make your high school experience so much better.”

Howard University will welcome Christian Brewster as the 18-year-old looks to major in journalism. “My dream would be to write for the New York Times or the New Yorker after I graduate from Howard,” he offered.

Among the most precious memories Brewster would like to take away from South Pas High School “are the ones in which I found people who cared deeply about personal issues pertaining to me and themselves,” he said. “It made my friendships more unique and important, knowing that I could talk to them with ease.” 

For freshmen students, his advice is “don’t get too distracted with the new High School life. I know it can be intimidating and/or exciting to begin the next chapter in your life, but there is another chapter after high school, so don’t spoil it because you can’t get over the fact that you are a high schooler now.” 

Aanji Sin plans on going to Scripps College in nearby Claremont, entering undeclared but planning on a major in English. “One day I’d like to be an author or write for a large publication,” said the 18-year-old.

He departs South Pasadena High with fond memories, “all of them made with my close group of friends,” he said. “High school is a rough time all around, but I managed to navigate it thanks to my community and the support I had. While I’m disappointed that my senior year was cut short, we make do with the memories we already made and the people we shared them with. I’m graduating alongside people that I’ll be friends with for a long time, longer than many high school friendships with a four-year expiration date.”

For those just launching into high school life, Sin insists: “Strap in. Work hard. It’s a bender for the next four, but you’ll get through it. Surround yourself with people that will push you to do your best. Set goals and work towards them. But don’t take yourself too seriously. After all, it is just high school and you’re still kids. It’s about setting up good habits that’ll pay off in the future.”