Pocket Life

June 2021
By Corky Mau

Reason To Celebrate

Tough year brings lessons for grads

Which high school graduating class had it worse, 2020 or 2021? Neither went to Senior Prom. Distance learning continued five days a week. Many students experienced burnout from Zoom classes and college applications. Some suffered learning loss. Most felt isolated and lonely.

But there are bright spots for the class of 2021. Sacramento City Unified schools have authorized in-person graduation ceremonies. Vanessa Buitrago, principal at the School of Engineering and Sciences in Pocket, is thrilled for her students.

“Great news! We’ll be having an in-person commencement ceremony on June 16 at the John F. Kennedy High School Stadium,” she told the campus family. Kennedy seniors will don caps and gowns June 14 and head to Sutter Health Park.

Come fall, more teens will leave home for college than last year. Many universities require vaccinations for students and staff, along with safety protocols. “My parents are a little anxious, but they’re excited I’m moving down to UC Santa Barbara in August,” says Dylan James, an Engineering and Sciences graduate.

James is intrigued by forensic science and plans to major in biology. He was happy to get vaccinated. “When it was offered to my age group, I jumped at the chance,” he says. “I’m glad the UC campuses are requiring this.”

Kennedy senior Sara Faraj looks forward to the freedom and independence of college life. “Since I’m fully vaccinated, I went back to JFK for in-person classes. It was great seeing my friends and teachers,” she says.

Faraj was accepted into UCLA, but is holding out for Harvard. She is president of Kennedy’s California Scholarship Federation club, serves on the school district Student Advisory Council and is active with 916Rise, a youth mental health organization. She plans a career in law and public policy.

Another Kennedy senior is Leah Hernandez, my neighbor. She has been accepted into several schools, with University of Pacific high on her list. Hernandez plans to major in computer science.

Ryan Robb is fully vaccinated and returned to Engineering and Sciences classes this spring. He’s on the robotics team. “I wanted to return to school so my teammates and I could finally start building our robot project. We spent most of our Zoom sessions designing our robot who retrieves basketballs.”

Robb leaves in August for Cal Poly Pomona, majoring in mechanical engineering. “I’m excited to go away to college and live in the dorms. But I am a little anxious about being independent and making my own decisions as an adult,” he says.

After living in pandemic isolation for more than a year, these teens have learned valuable life lessons. They told me they appreciate the smaller things in life. They feel more equipped to handle the challenges ahead of them. And they realize it’s important to focus on positives. They can’t undo the past year. Instead of being disillusioned about losses from COVID-19, they push forward with hope and optimism.


Despite very little rainfall, the Pocket “living quilt” designed by environmental artist Jane Ingram Allen has come alive with gorgeous red poppies, purple sweet peas and white sweet alyssum.

The wildflower bed is near the Community Garden at Sojourner Truth Park. Allen’s work was part of the 2020 Artist-in-Residency program sponsored by the city. More than a dozen artists created art pieces across several neighborhoods. We are fortunate to have such a unique living work of art.


Sean Allin, a junior at Kennedy, took first place at the California High School Speech Association state tournament. His milestone: He’s the first student from Sac City Unified and the Capitol Valley Forensics League to win this award. Allin outscored more than 400 students.

He debated such topics as the $15 minimum wage, anti-misinformation measures for media networks, Tibet as an independent nation and term limits for the U.S. Supreme Court. Allin and his Kennedy speech and debate teammates make Pocket and Greenhaven proud.

Corky Mau can be reached at corky.sue50@gmail.com. Submissions are due six weeks prior to the publication month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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