Just about five years ago, the quad at Central Coast New Tech High School grounds was nothing more than a mere dirt lot — an empty landscape where the biggest learning experiment was to begin.
Five years later, on the morning of June 11, hundreds of people filled the now newly constructed quad surrounded by brand new grey buildings and classrooms, to watch 75 New Tech graduates walk across the stage to receive their diplomas as the school’s first-ever graduating class.
Mandie Richardson, Nipomo High School graduate, was a former student at New Tech before transferring. Richardson had been one of the first “guinea pigs” to experience a new, modern way of learning.
“I’ve been through it all, with all of these kids,” said Richardson. “I’m here to support everybody because we’re a family, and that’s something that’ll never change.”
“Even though I’m not walking with them, I feel like I’m part of the family,” she continued. “History is definitely being made today.”
At 10 a.m., all the graduates, sporting their light gray gowns and wearing their adorned caps, all of which they decorated themselves, marched through the center of the quad and into their seats.
Eric Dunham, Master of Ceremonies, delivered a speech to the graduates, thanking them for being the first class to undertake such a risk.
“When I think back to the first day of school four short years ago, all the hopes, fears and dreams we had; I could’ve never imagined how we’d surpass them,” said Dunham.
“‘Your new family.’ That was the slogan the staff came up with during the first day of training before school began. It’s intention came to its fruition, and this school has truly become a family.”
Dunham highlighted the creativity that the class of 2016 possessed, and how their ambitions were well-aligned with the school’s model of innovative education.
“It is with this creativity that’ll take them so far in this 21st century world, to tackle and solve problems in ways no one could imagine,” he said.
In his speech, valedictorian Blaine Francis thanked the school and his classmates on lessons beyond academics.
“This school taught me a lot of simple educational things, like how to write an essay or give a presentation. But I’ve always learned a lot of important things, like how to be a good friend and help those around me,” Francis said.
ASB president Stephanie Fields read aloud a letter constructed by her fellow classmates and shared what it truly meant to be a part of the New Tech family.
“What a crazy ride this has been,” said Fields. “Someone has to test-ride a roller coaster before the public does, and we happened to be that someone.”
“As many near-death experiences do, you taught us many things about who we are, and who we want to be,” she said. “But now our ride has come to an end, so thank you, for one hell of a ride.”
Devlin Vicars, Speaker at Large, became teary-eyed and delivered an address that made many of his seated classmates emotional.
“Remember back to the time where you made a mistake, felt like you were inadequate, and couldn’t do that one thing,” Vicars said. “But then when we finally got that one thing right, that’s when we realized that we can succeed.”
“We started here in a dirt lot, with no school, but look at what we accomplished. I want to thank you, class of 2016, for growing with me as a family,” he said.
Principal Dan Neff shared his sentiments and marveled at how far the program had come since its first launch in 2012.
“We were in this journey together, we were our own family, and that has made all the difference,” he said. “Always remember that you were our first family, our alpha pack, our graduating class of 2016. Thank you.”
Graduate Megan Crist, who was part of the first experimental group of freshmen since day one, shared her big plans after New Tech, which included moving onto Hancock College to pursue a bachelors degree in journalism and multimedia communications.
“It feels very satisfying today,” she said. “In the beginning, I wanted to give up. But this school really helped me flourish and become who I am today. It taught me how to persevere.”