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HomeCommunity NewsAndy Lippman: Saying Goodbye and Good Luck to the Class of 2024

Andy Lippman: Saying Goodbye and Good Luck to the Class of 2024

The South Pasadena High School freshman class that came in shrouded in a COVID cloud is graduating next month, and there’s a blaze of expectations for many students.
“What makes this graduating class different from others is that they will be the last class to graduate from high school that had to do a year of high school online,” South Pasadena High Principal John Eldred said. “It makes them unique, but it also makes them resilient and, in my opinion, able to tackle whatever comes next after high school.”
I wanted to talk with a student in the Class of 2024 and was directed to Olivia Alfonso, whose joyful personality practically bounded through the screen on Zoom. Her smile could light the high school for a year.
I asked her if she had a date for the upcoming prom, and if anyone had come up with a clever way to ask her.
“Oh, I was the one who asked my boyfriend,” she corrected me. “I hid in the backseat of his best friend’s car and when he got in the car, I jumped up with a sign asking him to the prom, cookies and a stuffed animal.”
But, even someone as joyful as Alfonso had a hard time her first year in the shadow of the COVID pandemic. She told me that it was tough for her to socialize in her freshman year. There was a difficulty feeling connections and no sense of community. However, that helped her bond more with her sister, who is two years older.
“The silver lining is that it brought the class together and gave us an opportunity to spend quality time with classmates during the rest of high school,” she said.
Eldred said Alfonso wasn’t the only student who was affected emotionally by having to stay at home.
“I would say the largest challenge that our students faced upon return was simply reacclimating themselves to a school setting,” Eldred said. “Having a way to reconnect in person with their peers, as well as connect with teachers they had only seen on screen and a campus that was unfamiliar to them, was a definite challenge.
“The first year was rocky for everyone— students and adults alike — but given how supportive the community and the school district was that by the end of the year, things really started to feel like normal.”
To overcome her first-year challenges and jitters, Alfonso said she immediately decided to sign up for as many activities as possible. She was in yearbook, she got involved in clubs and student government, and she even played basketball for several years.
“I took risks by signing up for activities and was rewarded for putting myself out there and being emboldened,” she recalled.
Her risks certainly turned into rewards.
She graduates as departing commissioner general of the associated student body, which represents the student body at SPHS. She presided over student body meetings, represented the school at public gatherings and reported to the student body by way of weekly PA announcements. She worked with the school’s activities director to plan and organize retreats, making sure the events are well-managed and provide an enjoyable experience.
No wonder Eldred knows her name.
“How does one describe Olivia Alfonso without speaking for an inordinate amount of time?” the principal told me. “She is everywhere at once. She is the consummate ASB student leader. It has been a joy to watch her over the last year help connect students to their campus.”
I’m sure there are students who didn’t have as good a high school experience as Alfonso. There are also students who went about their high school time doing equally good work without being as noticed.
I know there are other students who might have been showcased, but I think Alfonso experienced some of the lows and many of the stresses of her classmates. Her answers to my questions show she is crossing her high school finish line able to reflect on the bad times, while relishing the good things that came her way.
She remembers watching when her sister, Isabella, whom she calls her best friend, being escorted by her parents, Lani and Rey Alfonso, when she was named to the homecoming court her senior year.
“Then my senior year, I was on the homecoming court and I got to walk onto that field with my parents. It was a great feeling,” she said.
But life in high school wasn’t all fun and games — even for a student as high profile as Alfonso.
“The hardest part of high school academically was my [Advanced Placement] courses, especially AP biology and AP language,” she said. “I spent a lot of late nights cramming for my exams and finishing literary analysis papers before deadline.
“On a personal level, the most difficult part of high school was the anxiety and growing pains of navigating friendships and myself as a person — what’s important to me and what I’d like to pursue in the future. My mindset of handling struggles in both areas was to take everything one day at a time, sometimes even one class period at a time.”
Senior year brought stress to her and her friends in the form of college applications, according to Alfonso, who described herself as a solid A-B student.
“One negative aspect of the school is the ultracompetitive culture surrounding grades and college decisions among students,” she said. “The school is very academically rigorous, which breeds competitive energy between people when it comes to how they perform in class, sometimes to a fault.”
Alfonso told me that she’s gotten acceptances from several schools and, as of the time this column was written, she hadn’t made a final decision. She added that she and a lot of her classmates coped with stress by having a network of friends that provide a strong support system.
“South Pasadena is different than other schools because of its smaller size and close-knit community,” Alfonso told me. “Within the school district, there are only three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. So, a lot of the student body has grown up together since grade school. As a result, the students of SPHS, including my senior class, are close with each other and have a strong sense of familiarity and a attachment to the community.”
When I interviewed her, Alfonso was in the middle of preparing for her finals. Once that’s done, she was looking forward to sharing and making memories during her last weeks of school. Out of the scrapbook of high school memories she’s collected, I asked her about her senior prom.
“My favorite part of the dance was slow-dancing with my boyfriend to ‘Kiss Me’ by Sixpence. It felt like a moment out of a movie.”
And soon it will be time for graduation on June 5 for about 320 students.
“I think my parents are very excited and a little nervous to see me graduate,” she said. “I’m the baby of the family and I think they are waiting to see how I handle being away from home. They always share in my joy and are my biggest supporters.”
So, here’s to the Class of 2024.
Congrats to the parents and those adults who have raised them, and thanks to the teachers, counselors and mentors who have helped shape their lives.
May everyone’s memories only grow sweeter with time.

First published in the May 17 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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