Grad season in Santa Monica is in full bloom as young students say goodbye to their high school alma maters in search of their futures, ready to mold themselves into who they’ll be. Change was a recurring theme for both Olympic and Santa Monica High schools and their respective graduations.

At Olympic, students were as exhilarated as they were grateful.

Andrew Flores, Dev Walker, and Anthony Hernandez have lived through challenging pasts but it’s all behind them now as they said they’re ready for their futures.

“We had to get it over with… we’re finished,” Flores said, exhaling relief.

“I’ve been to four different high schools and this is the last one. Out of all four, this was the one for me. It made me. Why four? It’s a lot of personal things, bad things at the time. Sh*t happens. But I’m past that now. College is next. I’m going to SMC then transferring after that. Only going up.”

After music speeches from students, teachers, and district staff, principal Andrew Fuller took to the stage. Each handshake and hug with a student is personal; after all, only 30 or so people comprise this graduation.

“It means so much to all of us,” said Walker’s mom Lisa Garcia. “He’s come along way … he got it all together at the end there. This school has special resources for kids in difficult situations and it’s helped a lot. Dev’s gonna go to SMC and transfer from there. Dev’s come a long way and we’re proud.”

If Olympic High school is a small indie movie, Samohi is a summer blockbuster.

An orchestra played before the audience, tucked around a bridge crossing a manmade body of water to the main stage of graduation.

Stretching towards the sky, Samohi’s outdoor theater was overflowing with family and friends of graduating students. Some held signs, some blew bullhorns, and some carried enlarged pictures of faces of who they were proud of.

After opening words and a tongue in cheek version of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” a student performed a powerful rendition of Charles Bradley’s “Changes” — a fitting song for an evening of transition and hope for students.

“You all are an inspiration,” Dr. Antonio Shelton, Samohi principal said to the students. “Your life can be an inspiration for someone to continue on. Be the inspiration you need, the inspiration that you desire. Be the inspiration that future generations will want to imitate. Be the generation that brings hope to all. You are our future, and we want the best for you.”

After lauding his students for using their voices in activism, sports, and the performing arts, Shelton had one last request for these students of Samohi before they begin this new chapter in their lives:

“Shine bright, Samohi, and be strong and be blessed. Go Vikings.”