On Saturday afternoon, 67 girls clad in an array of white dresses strode across the circular lawn at Castilleja School arm-in-arm with their peers, each one holding a bouquet of red roses as they made their way to the stage.
Touching on themes of gratitude, education and leadership, Castilleja's 109th commencement began with a simple but telling statement from senior class Vice President Lea Sparkman, whose reading from Craig Silvey's novel "Jasper Jones" said what was palpably felt throughout the ceremony: "What I'm feeling, I think, is joy."
After a choral performance of "America the Beautiful," valedictorian Claire Huang recounted the simple joys she experienced during her years at Castilleja like a friendly hello on her way to class or a joke between friends in the hallway after school, and how those small gestures made a big difference to her self-confidence. She explained that the best advice she received was not from a speech or classroom lecture, but was shown to her instead by the compassion and love of her peers.
"If there's one thing this class will be remembered for, it is our readiness to love ourselves and each other," she said. "Thank you for sharing your boundless generosity with me and everyone else on this campus and for showing me you don't need a big voice to have a huge heart."
Other speakers talked about the importance of a Castilleja education, which keynote speaker and alumnae Laura Arrillaga Andreessen attributed to her success as a philanthropist, educator and social entrepreneur. Her schooling -- from its demands for excellence in academia, sports and service to its emphasis on camaraderie and friendship -- radically changed the way she approached life's most difficult and trying circumstances, giving her the foundation to be a leader in the world, she said.
"Education is the lighting of a fire, and at Castilleja we are ignited, we are stoked and we are illuminated," she said. "Castilleja educators light our fires, and they literally change the course of our lives."
Arrillaga Andreessen also imparted three "transformational gifts" to the graduating Class of 2016: competence creates confidence, hardship hones heroism and gratitude is everything.
Inciting laughter from students and the audience alike, she described the "two-year migraine" she suffered from her junior and senior years from the stress of school, and the constant diet of frozen yogurt, movie popcorn and broccoli that fueled her formative years at Castilleja, a battle greater in difficulty than any of her Stanford University degrees, she admitted.
Despite the difficulties of academic life, her education also gave her unique opportunities to learn from the world around her, to think critically and to gain entrepreneurial skills, all of which paved the way to her career today, Andreessen said.
"Learning how to multitask at a CEO level -- think academics, athletics, government, service -- before I had my driver's license, gave me the courage to have three full-time careers simultaneously," she said. "After succeeding at Castilleja, we can succeed anywhere and at anything because Castilleja gives us an invaluable gift: an acumen that creates unstoppable volition."
Castilleja Award winner Nicole Goodman, who was chosen by the school's faculty as a senior who best embodied the five Cs of Castilleja -- conscience, courtesy, character, courage and charity -- reflected on her gratitude for the opportunities and mentors that surround her and her classmates, dedicating her speech to the teachers who shaped the core of their learning experience.
"You have taught me the importance of learning driven by curiosity, and the value of understanding material for life rather than memorizing it for a test. You are my role models, my life coaches and my friends," she said.
In the final speech of the afternoon, Head of School Nanci Kauffman began with a reference to the Golden State Warriors, who are currently playing in the NBA finals, and asked the audience, "How can the Warriors' popularity and success become a source of wisdom to impart on our graduates?"
Kauffman went on to explain that in the complicated world, success is often defined by acquiring the "right combination" of leadership, risk taking, passion and teamwork. The Warriors have found that balance by equating strong leadership with shared leadership, a skill that the Class of 2016 also embraces, she said.
She praised graduates for their ability to shift leadership roles at a moment's notice and understanding "when to step up and when to step back."
"A true warrior does not allow fear to guide her choices, and neither should you," Kauffman said. "If you take nothing else from Castilleja, please take with you the confidence to take chances and to take your own shots."
After performing their last rendition of the Castilleja School Song, graduates filed out in pairs toward their family and friends for a reception hosted by the school, where each graduating senior had her own table adorned with pictures, graduation caps and presents.
Juliet O'Brien, who is attending the United States Naval Academy next year, said she is going to miss the all-girls aspect of Castilleja, in addition to the "really extraordinary" teacher-student relationships that the school fostered.
"To be able to have the all-girls experience in the back of my head as I go through college is something that will really help me in the classroom, like being more confident and courageous about sharing my voice and speaking out," O'Brien said.
Senior Laurel Nelson said that the closing remarks by Kauffman stood out for her, adding that the support she received from everyone on campus was unparalleled.
"Having the courage to go after what we want because we have the ability, not just through Castilleja, but through our own individual merits resonated most," said Nelson, who is attending University of California, Berkeley, in the fall.
Andreessen left graduates with the determination to constantly strive for greatness, but she also left them with an unusual request: "Today, as each of you begin to write the next chapter of your spectacular lives, my welcoming words to each of you glorious graduates is do not become the person you always dreamed of being."
"Become the person you never dreamed it was possible to be," she said, smiling with a knowing grin.