Photos by Brennon Dixson.

With more than 1,000 Spanish speakers at Santa Monica High School, the LatinX and ChicanX community at Samohi is pretty close knit, so it was only natural that they would meet for one final goodbye before graduation.

Most of the local the Chicanx-Latinx Student Council, Latinos Unidos, and Brown Minds Matter club members attended elementary and middle school together and were quite eager to complete their academic journeys as a group this year when they crossed the stage during graduation. Dr. Mireles-Toumayan, a local teacher whose impact cannot be overstated by her students, even ordered customized graduation stoles that she intended to gift to the young scholars prior to their commencement ceremony.

However, that was before the pandemic forced the dismissal of students and staff from school campuses back in March, so Monday’s meetup came as a unique surprise to the nearly 50 families who stopped by Samohi to enjoy conversation and a bite to eat with students, loved ones and respected mentors like Rebecca G. Villegas.

“It’s pretty cool that all of us Latinos are getting together to celebrate something as a community since we weren’t allowed to come together during the pandemic,” Julian Martinez said. “It’s really cool to celebrate the little things we have like food and getting our stoles, and taking pictures with our teachers.”

Though he was planning to “attend” Tuesday night’s virtual graduation, Nathan Vincent considered his peers an unlucky class since they weren’t able to enjoy any of the traditional activities held for seniors around graduation time.

“Everything was just so unexpected. We didn’t know that (March 12) would be our last day walking in the passing period or going to fourth period, so I just took it as a normal day. And it just goes to show, at any moment, something could just be snatched from under you. And I’ll never get to experience that ever again. I’ll never be able to experience a passing period and say ‘Hi,” to my friends or what it’s like for D to scold me for going to class late or anything like that. I feel like I kind of took it for granted,” Vincent said. “But I’m so happy to be here as opposed to having this online, which would suck because it takes away from the emotion of it all.”

Keila Sanchez, president of ChicanX LatinX community council, and Cynthia Navarro, vice-president of CLCC, said during Monday’s gathering that students typically see each other every week to plan and coordinate events.

“The whole point of our club is to raise cultural awareness and try to change the image of how people perceive us,” Sanchez said. “So, we hold college events and we try to really build leaders in our club, not just followers. Meaning we like to get them politically involved and we try to inform them as much as we could about how politics really affects our communities.”

As a former student who could barely muster up the courage to previously address a room of classmates, Navarro can attest to the benefits of the club firsthand.

“Before the club I was very shy — I’m still very shy — but it was way out of my comfort zone to run a club, much less talk to people about It or politics and why they should join,” Navarro said. “But now, I think it definitely has allowed me to become more confident when it comes to subjects like politics or some of the beliefs that I have. l I feel like I’m more comfortable sharing them and talking about them through social media or one-on-one. And since our entire club is pushing for people to be leaders, I feel like that’s definitely going to help me not just stay in the shadows but have my own opinions and be able to express it whenever I feel it’s needed.”

Club adviser Sarah Rodriguez added prior to the conclusion of Monday’s meet-and-greet that this year has been one of the most challenging.

“And, it’s tough to know they will have to miss an opportunity to celebrate a huge milestone in their lives, especially when it’s a chance to really be seen and acknowledged for the incredible work they’ve done — not only to get themselves through to this point, but also to organize and raise consciousness among their peers and community about the many issues of social justice that many more of us are awakening to now,” Rodriguez said. “So, I’m just feeling honored to be part of this community of young people and adults who are committed to ensuring that these students get the visibility and the leadership opportunities and the access to college and next steps that you know they deserve and have worked so hard for.”

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