Commencement Ceremonies Bring Joy and Closure

Horace Mann Elementary School, Beverly Vista Middle School and Beverly Hills High School held their 2023 graduation ceremonies between May 31-June 2.

On May 31 at Horace Mann, school officials and students embraced the festive occasion by sporting leis of purple flowers. Attendees at the “promotion” ceremony included BHUSD Superintendent Michael Bregy; Assistant Superintendents Raphael Guzman and Dustin Seeman; School Board Member Rachelle Marcus; Board Member and Clerk Mary Wells; and School Principal Craig Bugbee.

“Horace Mann fifth grade, are you ready?” Bugbee said at the start of the event. It was a joyous affair despite the overcast skies. Attendees were all smiles as the graduating fifth grade Huskies spoke about their positive experiences at the school. There was purple everywhere, from the balloons to the step-and-repeat to Bregy’s sportscoat. Judging from the excitement of the young faces, students were ready to begin their summer and be promoted into sixth grade, their first year of middle school.

On June 1, continuing the week of commencements, Beverly Vista Middle School held its graduation ceremony.

“You have shown up, persevered and achieved,” Beverly Vista Middle School Principal Dr. Kelly Skon said. 

For Beverly Vista, the 2023 graduating class experienced a share of challenges. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the class began middle school three years ago on Zoom. Students didn’t meet in person until the conclusion of sixth grade. However, the class of 272 students came together and gathered on the campus’ outdoor field along with family and friends to mark the completion of eighth grade. 

School Board Member Vice President Amanda Stern spoke; Beverly Vista’s student string ensemble performed Maroon 5’s “Memories;” and BHHS Co-Principal Stewart said he looked forward to having students at the high school next year.

BHHS graduation
Beverly Hills High School’s 2023 commencement was held June 2 on Nickoll Field. Photo courtesy city of Beverly Hills

“Today you are officially a Norman,” Stewart said, referring to the high school’s mascot. “Congratulations.”

On June 2, the BHHS commencement ceremony was held on the high school’s Nickoll Field. At 10:20 a.m., the 301 members of the BHHS senior class moved the tassels of their caps from right to left, signaling they were officially high school graduates. Celebrating, they threw their caps in the air.  

The turning of the tassel ceremony marked the conclusion of the students’ four-year high school career as well as a new beginning, BHHS Co-Principal Kim Decatrel said. 

“Go into the world and do well, but more importantly go into the world and do good,” Decatrel said.

The high school’s ceremony began with Student Body President Amelia Teschner welcoming attendees and leading the Pledge of Allegiance. She was followed by student commencement speakers Ashley Jourabch, Alexandria Bakshian and Chloe Sooferan.

Jourabch quoted rapper Nicki Minaj’s lyric, “Forget the haters, just get the money,” saying it was aspirational.

Sooferan underlined the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (Hebrew for “healing the world”), saying her experience participating in March of the Living, an education program that brings students to Poland to learn about the Holocaust, affirmed “the importance of standing up to hate.”

BHHS commencement student speakers
Student speakers at Beverly Hills High School’s 2023 commencement from left: Chloe Sooferan, Amelia Teschner and Ashley Jourabch Photo by Colby Gilardian, KBEV

BHUSD Board of Education President Noah Margo was a speaker and discussed what it meant to become “great.” While the students had surely accomplished great things, they weren’t great—not yet.

“The diploma we hand you today is an invitation to do that, to keep trying,” Margo said. 

After BHHS Co-Principals Decatrel and Drew Stewart offered the official presentation of the high school senior class—“It’s our recommendation that today they are awarded their high school diplomas,” Decatrel said—Margo gave the response, granting the request. A roll call of graduates followed, prompting parents from their seats to take photos of the children walking onstage. 

A quote by novelist Janet Fitch, author of the celebrated book, “White Oleander,” provided the theme for the graduation ceremony: “You’ve got to let go of who were, to become who you will be.” 

During the ceremony, Ilan Nickfardjam became the fourth member of his family to graduate from the high school. His mother, Debbie, watched as Ilan accepted his diploma. She said her son’s graduation was “bittersweet.” 

“It’s another milestone,” she told the Courier. “This chapter is closed, and he’ll go on to another chapter of his life…It’s time to move on.”

The commencements wrapped a bustling school-week filled with end-of-year programs. Along with the graduation ceremonies, the district organized informal and private events, including the BHHS Senior Scholarship Evening and the BHHS Department Awards.

The week also included a much-delayed graduation for the high school’s class of 2020. When they were supposed to accept their diplomas, in June 2020, the city was on lockdown because of the pandemic. Then-BHHS Principal Mark Mead and Bregy drove to each graduate’s house to hand deliver diplomas.

BHHS Co Principals
Beverly Hills High School Co-Principals Drew Stewart and Kim Decatrel Photo by Colby Gilardian, KBEV

But on June 2, following the class of 2023’s commencement ceremony, 30 students from the 2020 class finally had their moment, walking onstage in white caps and gowns with parents and loved ones looking on. There was music, tacos and former BHHS Principal Mead spoke with “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background.

In lieu of a diploma, everyone was handed a BHHS hat by the Board of Education and cabinet members as they walked across the stage. Parents and siblings cheered followed by many hugs and a few tears. 

After the ceremony, BHHS Co-Principal Stewart led the graduates and their families on a tour of the new buildings they never got to see. 

“We know kids are resilient and can overcome so much, but it’s nice to be able to provide some closure for some of those events they didn’t get to participate in,” BHUSD Governing Board Member and Clerk Mary Wells told the Courier. “It’s the least we can do, it’s an easy thing we can do, and it was meaningful for those who wanted and needed it.”

It was JR Dzubak’s idea to have the ceremony. A parent of a 2020 graduate, Dzubak observed how much his son, Nolan, was impacted by not taking part in the usual activities marking the end of a typical senior year. He and his wife wanted to give him an ordinary graduation experience. 

Bugbee and Bregy at Horace Mann
From left: Horace Mann Elementary School Principal Craig Bugbee and BHUSD Superintendent Michael Bregy Photo courtesy city of Beverly Hills

Involved in civic matters, Dzubak, who is also president of the Rotary Club of Beverly Hills, brought the idea of a ceremony for the 2020 class to the head of the high school’s PTSA, Rose Kaiserman, and district leaders. To his delight, they were receptive.

So, on the day of the commencement ceremony, the Dzubaks, who also have a daughter who’s a 2023 graduate, took pride in having two children graduating. 

“I remember the way my son looked when he was 7 years old, getting excited for Halloween, what that look looked like—I saw that look when he graduated last week when they organized the graduation,” Dzubak said in a phone interview. “To reconnect with friends, to walk the stage and take pictures with his mom and dad, that was amazing.”

The ceremony, he said, underscored the city’s unique commitment to nurturing community.

“We’re lucky to be in Beverly Hills, in a caring tightknit community like this. LAUSD, Culver City, none of the other school districts had the ability to pull it off the way this district worked together.”