After the dancing, singing and poetry of Berkeley High’s graduation ceremony Thursday.
After the 700 graduates of the class of 2001 stomped, skipped or glided across the stage of UC Berkeley’s Greek Theater, waving their diplomas in the air like victory pennants, or tucking them under their arms like top-secret documents.
After the blazing sun mercifully dipped behind the trees and shadow fell across stadium.
That’s when reality set in for graduating senior Marian Valley.
“It’s sad,” Valley said, fighting back tears. “Your childhood’s gone.”
But seconds behind the sadness came elation.
“I’m going to college,” Valley said firmly.
And then, her voice rising, like she would burst into song: “And I want to be a writer, teacher, psychologist, doctor...”
She laughed, aware that she might have gone too far.
But all around her other students were feeling the tug and pull of similar emotions.
Eddie James felt it. And it made him smile, but it also made him wonder.
“I feel real good,” he said. And then: “I don’t know what to do with myself.”
The first step, he had down: attend San
Francisco State. But he could sense that he wanted something more, too; to transfer to Howard University, maybe – one of the East Coast’s prestigious, all-black colleges.
James, who worked to make Berkeley High a better place through his involvement in student groups such as Youth Together and the Black Student Union, thought maybe he could see himself as a lawyer somewhere down the road.
One thing he was sure of though: he had come a long way in his four years at Berkeley High.
“I didn’t really know too much (as a freshman), and I acted kind of silly,” James said. “I wouldn’t have realized that then, but I do now.”
Nearby, Raul Hernandez had somehow managed to pick his mother out of the mass of smiling faces near the entrance to the stadium. The deep emotions of the day had subsided somewhat for him, to be replaced by a kind of perfect calm.
“You feel free now,” he said simply.
Free, in the case of Hernandez, to pursue the study of business as a soon-to-be UC Berkeley freshman.
Yolanda Roberts, the parent of a graduate, was feeling some of that freedom too as she waited for her daughter.
“I’m so glad my daughter graduated,” she said, heaving a deep sigh. “It was a very long, hard struggle.”
Roberts recalled her daughter’s battles with peer pressure – and her own herculean efforts to negotiate Berkeley High’s bureaucracy – as if they were yesterday. But none of that could keep her from smiling Friday.
“Maturity really set in for her,” Roberts said. “I think, as she got older, she was more confident with who she was.”
Roberts’ daughter is bound for San Francisco’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise in the fall.
“I always told them, you can’t ever get enough education,” said Robert’s mother, Judy Bragg, Berkeley High class of 1960. “The job market is harder for them to come out into now.”
Berkeley school board president Terry Doran – a longtime teacher at Berkeley High – exchanged poignant hugs with some of his former students after the ceremony.
“There’s definitely a sadness,” Doran said, explaining that this year’s graduates include the last student he taught before his retirement in 1999.
Doran, an educator for 35 years, agreed with Bragg that 2001 could be a tough year for high school graduates.
“I think times are tougher now for young people,” he said. “The economy is different. Young people have a lot more pressure on them to succeed.”
But as he watched his former students parade past, radiating energy and eagerness, Doran said he wasn’t worried about the Berkeley High graduates.
“The attitude of students hasn’t changed. They’re optimistic, (they feel) they’re going to take the world. And they will.
“The vast majority of Berkeley High students come out well-prepared for life,” he said.
There she was, broken away suddenly from the mass of red and yellow gowns – the classmates who she could no longer count on meeting tomorrow, in the corridors of Berkeley High – searching the crowd for her family. And even in that most precarious of moments, she could feel a new confidence beginning to take hold of her.
“Growing up, that’s all it was,” she said. “I had fun though. I had my ups and downs in school and in life and I think it made me stronger.”