Carrying bouquets of red roses and clad in white dresses and pantsuits, the 62 members of Castilleja School's Class of 2019 linked arms and held hands as they marched before their family and friends to celebrate the completion of their high school careers Saturday afternoon.
Keynote speaker Callie Khouri, screenwriter of "Thelma and Louise," emphasized the importance of honoring trailblazing women in her speech. "I call myself a feminist to honor those women who went before me and put it all on the line," she said.
"This time of year, speeches are being given all across the country about your ability and your responsibility to change the world. I want to tell you, you will be surprised at how resistant the world will be to change, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn't try."
Khouri, whose niece was among the graduates, also urged the audience to resist the temptation to measure their success by comparing themselves to others.
"In today's environment, everyone is photographing themselves, projecting a highly curated image on social media, as if we are selling ourselves to an invisible audience," she said.
"If you're like I was at your age ... you also have tremendous self-doubt. I'm sure that each one of you could offer me a fairly detailed list of what you see as your imperfections. Don't. I urgently implore you more than anything else to purge yourself of this natural but viciously counterproductive inclination to compare yourself to the unrealistic versions created on social media."
Although Castilleja no longer selects a valedictorian, the school presents the Castilleja Award to students who demonstrate conscience, courtesy, character, courage and charity, known as the "five Cs." Sophia Nevle Levoy, one of the recipients of the award, spoke about the importance of acknowledging her responsibility to improve the world during her speech.
"A lot has been said about making choices that are good for us, choices that help us lead emotionally healthy lives," Levoy said. "But something we talk about less, because it can come across as moralistic, is 'how do we make choices that are good for the world? How do we make choices that wield our power wisely?'"
Claire Pisani, another recipient, talked about the courage of the students around her, particularly when it came to speaking up and asking for help.
"What I think encapsulates much of what I've learned from all of you is that admitting you need help and asking for it does not make you weak, but is in fact one of the strongest things you can do," Pisani said. "Time and time again, I am inspired by classmates who reveal this kind of courage when they meet with teachers one on one, ask for extra time or extensions on assignments, or approach the counselors for advice on social and mental health issues. There is great strength in showing others who you are, not just in the good times but in the bad."
Head of School Nanci Kauffman gave the closing speech, starting with a letter she received from a community member who was moved by the kindness that Castilleja students had shown her. She also acknowledged the growing preference among today's leaders for discord over civility.
"In business and in politics, we see leaders who lack tolerance and marginalize certain groups, in many cases, women. Instead of respectful debate amongst leaders, we sometimes witness hostile confrontations," Kauffman said.
"It is in this context, coming of age in a climate of discord, that your acts of kindness to one another and to others truly are noteworthy. ... We trust that you will be the leaders in the movement to take back kindness."
• View the full list of Castilleja School's Class of 2019 here.
• Visit Graduation Central for more stories and photos capturing commencement celebrations across Midpeninsula high schools.