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Culver graduates, families get a chance to celebrate

Culver graduates, families get a chance to celebrate

The inscription on this bench, part of the 2021 Class gift to Culver School, reads, “In honor of Sam Yousif. A friend to all.”

As the school year came to a close last month, Culver School board members, staff and administrators were determined to let eighth graders celebrate their graduation despite the pandemic. They succeeded.

Picking up on practices that a few school districts used last year, Culver held a full-blown “drive-in” graduation ceremony on May 26 in the school’s back parking lot. Principal Erica Smolinski said the event, convened at dusk, featured a 40-foot movie screen, music, speeches and theater-style treats passed out by seventh graders.

Graduates and their families appreciated the effort. “We got really excellent community feedback,” Smolinski said. “Of course, we hoped it would be special and memorable. It’s such a big event for our eighth graders — so many had been here since preschool. We were building a special memory together.”

Of the school’s 69 graduates, 68 attended with family members, Smolinski said. The typical graduation honors were extended, featuring awards and student speeches.

In his speech, Zaid Siddiqi said, “We are all very thankful for those of you who were able to attend this event. This has been a really wild year, full of twists and turns. I think we are blessed to come out here today and celebrate our graduation the way we are.”

Alba Ahmeti shared what fellow graduates told her: “They said that at the end, they were doing so much better and being present in school and having people to motivate them helped. This comes to show how we never gave up and even though this past year hasn’t been normal at the slightest, we made it through with a positive attitude.”

Lena Schultz noted, “Some of us have gone to school together for nearly 10 years, and I don't think any of us expected it all to end on Zoom calls in our bedrooms, or in classrooms blanketed in disinfectant sprays. It took us all by surprise, and I'm so proud of each and every one of us for fighting through.”

The Class of 2021 made a collective donation to Culver’s theater program in the name of Sam Yousif, their classmate who sadly died in an accident in July. “This donation will help purchase any missing items the program needs. This way every school year to come has a play in Sam’s honor,” said Lupita Abonce.

She continued, “I asked some of his castmates to share some memories about Sam and they said, ‘He would always somehow make us laugh, and it made rehearsals even better.’ I know this is true because he was always the life of the party. Another cast member said, ‘Just the energy he gave during scenes, the emotions he shared in scenes were amazing. He really loved it, he was always so positive and good hearted and funny, you could tell he enjoyed every moment of it every day.’ I can totally agree with him. Sam's smile lit up the room wherever he went.”