California School of the Arts – San Gabriel Valley held its inaugural graduation ceremony, celebrating the 88 members of its first graduating class on May 31.
Featuring performances from the Vocal Arts Conservatory, faculty members and the cross-conservatory performing group FUSION, the ceremony also included an inspiring keynote speech by Broadway performer and Orange County School of the Arts alumna Susan Egan.
All CSArts-SGV seniors were accepted into institutes of higher education and 67% will be attending four-year universities across 11 states. Altogether, the class earned over $2 million in scholarships.
“I am most proud of our seniors because they worked very hard to establish a culture of achievement on this campus that ensures that all students regardless of race, gender or orientation feel safe, respected and valued,” said Principal Wallace. “In a society in which many adults feel that public education is a failing institution, these students worked hard over two years to prove the critics wrong. When students are given the opportunity to build an environment that they value, they can do it, and CSArts-SGV is proof of that concept.”
This success has been fostered by more than 150 teachers, nearly 100 visiting academic and arts professionals, almost 70 performances and art showcases, community partnerships with Descanso Gardens, Pasadena Conservatory of Music, LA College of Music, and the Dragon Kim Foundation.
With this experience, the graduating seniors look forward to taking the lessons they have learned at CSArts into the world.
“My English Comp classes helped me to have more freedom in my writing, which helped me in writing application essays and short response questions [that] show[ed] the application reviewers who I was through words,” said Musical Theatre senior Rinn Maldonado. “I’m going into this chapter confidently because CSArts-SGV taught me how to balance arts and academics, along with various clubs and activities.”
Maldonado looks forward to getting a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre at Northwestern University.
Senior Claudia Lee from the Commercial Dance Conservatory credits her senior dance class at CSArts-SGV for inspiring within her an interest in dance videography through which she could express a variety of messages from education to politics. The interest transformed into a new passion that she hopes will reach new communities.
“I’m still working out the kinks of my dream, but for now I know I want to study how to reach a new level of understanding with the people around me through media,” Lee said. She will be pursuing Media Studies at the University of Oregon in the fall.
For Instrumental Music senior Sebastian Huemer, who will be attending Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in the fall, the academic rigor and personalized attention was the most valuable part of his CSArts-SGV experience.
“I plan to pursue computer engineering as my main major with a potential second or third major with a minor in music,” Huemer said. “I felt that CSArts-SGV helped get me there with the rigorous education and attention that I wouldn’t have been able to get at many other places.”
Other students expressed the same appreciation for the teachers’ dedication.
“I could always count on my teachers at CSArts-SGV. I could email them at any time, and I knew they’d reply soon with an answer to my question or an invitation to their office hours. Even my conservatory teachers stayed in contact with their students throughout the week. I built valuable relationships with my teachers that I hope will last for years to come,” Rinn said.
Beyond giving students the academic and artistic training for college and careers, the CSArts experience is one that gives students an environment to grow not only as artists, but also as individuals.
“Before CSArts-SGV, I was a completely different person. I’m not trying to say that this school changes everyone, that’s not what this is about, but the community it [has] is very different from my old high school’s,” Lee said. “I was used to living within a predominantly Asian American population, so it was a sort of cultural shock coming to CSArts-SGV. There was more diversity, more focus on the arts, more opportunities to become independent…[which] allowed me to improve as an individual. I learned to be accepting, more outspoken, and kind to everyone around me. This improved version of myself is the person I’m confident will thrive in college.”
As a member of CSArts-SGV’s first graduating class, I personally found that the CSArts experience was one in which I not only discovered my interests and passions but also one in which I had the chance to discover and grow into the kind of artist and person I wanted to be.
From seeing my peers juggle academics, part-time jobs, and conservatory demands while still having the energy day after day to encourage and support one another in class, outside of school, and at performances, I discovered that the kind of person and artist I wanted to be was not one who simply strove for personal achievement, but also one who could pride myself in personal characteristics and a willingness to support and give to those around me.
In a time hyper-focused on brand names, I suppose this is where I thank CSArts for giving me the opportunities that made me continuing higher education at Columbia University possible, which I sincerely do. But what I’d like to thank CSArts for is for a different kind of success.
I thank this arts education for teaching me how to listen so that I know the reasons for which I use my voice. I thank the diversity at CSArts for opening my eyes, helping me recognize my privilege, and inspiring me to think of my art and platform as a way to address and reconcile with all that is going on around us that I had once been sheltered from.
And I thank my experiences at CSArts for teaching me the unquantifiable and invaluable indicators of success: creativity, grit, and respect that helped me grow into someone who is ready to take on the challenges of college and the real-world.
An arts education might not be for everyone. But for me, I graduated from one with far more than a just a diploma.