The Class of 2023

Congratulations to Riley, Mishayla, Natalie, Louisa, Raven, Nico, Hamish, Jaden, and tens of thousands of other young people who crossed the stage to receive their high school diplomas last month. The challenges they face are numerous, but we have had conversations with these eight young people, and they are ready to find their place in the world of adults. It is inspiring to know them and in the case of our beloved grandson, Jaden, to have had the privilege to be involved in his life since he was born.

Challenges for the class of 2023

This class entered high school as ninth graders and were sent home after spring break as their world morphed into the unknown world territory of pandemic. Everything around them was closing and in chaos at precisely the time young people were meant to expand and reach out. The norms they and their parents took for granted were gone. Flexibility became an essential survival skill.

As high school juniors, they re-entered their school buildings wearing masks and working to re-establish relationships, extracurricular activities, and some sense of academic normalcy. By the end of 2021 most mask requirements were dropped. But trust takes time to re-establish.  Patterns don’t happen overnight. We must not take for granted the individual courage and determination this generation of students called upon to succeed in graduating from high school.

Graduation at Culver City High School

Jaden and his parents, Joe and Sally

When we entered the football stadium where Jaden’s graduation took place, I looked around at the crowd of caps and gowns and their proud families. Tears welled up in my eyes. More than a half century ago I was walking across a high school stage in southern Minnesota. And just like these young people, I was eager to take the next steps in my own life. It was the Viet Nam war era. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy would both be assassinated the following spring. There was chaos around me, but my focus was on finding my place in the world. And walking into that stadium on that cool June morning in Los Angeles the words of our grandson somewhere in the sea of blue gowns and gold tassels rang in my ears.

When asked how he felt about graduation, he responded, “I am excited to be going to college, to meet new people, to see another part of my state.”

He is not focused specifically on the challenges of politics in his own country, the war in Ukraine, climate change, racial conflict. He is aware of these things, but focused on the next steps he can take in his life—succeeding in his new summer job, planning for college orientation in the fall, thinking about what his major might be. And that is exactly what we need him to be doing. We have always needed the exuberance, energy, and skill of young people to come along side those of us who are older and more worn down by the challenges of life.

Graduates listening to speeches

Jaden’s grandparents and father in the stadium, photo by Sally, Jaden’s mother

The field was filled with students of every race and ethnicity mingling around looking for friends. High fives and hugs were caught by cell phone cameras by parents and family members bubbling with excitement and pride. After the audience was seated in the football stadium bleachers, the class of 2023 walked onto the center of the field to the recorded notes of “Pomp and Circumstance”. We all stood. Some of us cheered. Some of us shed tears. The time-honored ritual of high school graduation had begun.

The ritual of high school graduation

In most communities this ritual includes processing into a stadium to the song “Pomp and Circumstance”, the wearing of caps and gowns with school colors, speeches by some faculty and students, a march across a stage to receive a high school diploma, the throwing of caps into the air, and a recessional. There is comfort in this continuity—a sense that the world is progressing as we have known it.

Another important aspect of a rite of passage is the presence of family and community to witness the ceremony. Jaden’s parents, sister, and four grandparents (Washington state, Minnesota, and California) came to participate. My sister, Margaret, and her son, Frank, flew in from North Carolina. His aunt drove in from east Los Angeles. This widespread presence signaled to Jaden that we take seriously this achievement.

Jaden’s mom, Sally, Aunt Margaret and cousin Frank from N.C. at the Griffith Observatory

Jaden and cousin Frank touring LA









Jaden opening a card at his graduation party

Jaden and sister Sasha at the graduation party











We had a wonderful weekend of good food, games, tours, and important conversations. At his afternoon graduation party, Jaden called his own circle and asked those present to share a strength they see in him and something he needs to improve as he makes this big step. Each person’s comments and the accompanying stories spoke volumes about the esteem this young man is held in by those closest to him.

Grandpa Joe and Aunt Juell

Living room set-up for Jaden’s graduation circle and party







The graduation cake

Kudos to Jaden and his family

To Sally and Joe—congratulations! A parenting job extremely well done.

Be well, Jaden. Thank you for being such an eager participant in our Whidbey Island Granny camps all these years, for allowing us to help with the college application and choosing process, and for speaking so openly to us from the time you were a young boy.

Do good work  in the world. Your communication skills, work ethic and moral compass are deeply needed. Sonoma State University is lucky to have you as an incoming freshman and you will learn a lot in return.

Ann wearing the Sonoma State University t-shirt, photo by Christina Baldwin

P.S. To read about the road trip we took, driving 2,838 miles to the graduation, read Christina’s blog:


32 replies
  1. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    Kudos to all of you! How lucky he and Sasha are to have you and Christina as devoted grandparents and mentors. I heard from Christina about the circle Jaden called, and am gobsmacked. What an amazing young man. I hope I get to attend my oldest grandson’s graduation next year. I have not been such a part of his life, sadly, in part due to being 2500 miles away since he was six. I’m happy to say, he is a good human though, and that is what matters. xoxo

  2. Audrey B Denecke
    Audrey B Denecke says:

    Congratulations to Riley, Mishayla, Natalie, Louisa, Raven, Nico, Hamish, Jaden, what a wonderful day. Excited for your next steps!! May you have many happy days ahead in college or wherever your interests take you.
    Blessings on your parents and grandparents!

  3. Diane Ahuna
    Diane Ahuna says:

    Ann Linnea,

    Is this young, handsome man the youngster for whom I gave you a bike some years ago?
    If so, congratulations to him from me!!! Well Done! and best wishes for his impending future..

    diane ahuna

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, it sure is! He would not be able to ride that bike now! And his wheels are presently a car he got from an older uncle. Ann

  4. Meredith Jordan
    Meredith Jordan says:

    Oh, Ann, did this bring tears to my eyes! My oldest grandson is 14 and an incoming high school freshman this year; I’m keenly aware that the next four years will fly by as quickly as the last 14 have done. Also keenly aware of his growth in so many ways, among them that he still loves to hang out with his Nana and is always grateful for our family’s presence at nearly all of his big events. And then there is my 10 year old, who has just had a highly successful baseball and school year, and has also done so much maturing into a young man. It’s an incredible and joyful honor to be a witness to their rites of passage, and, at the same time, so incredibly poignant. You said it all so beautifully!

    with much love,

  5. Sara J Harris
    Sara J Harris says:

    Such a sweet story. We got a nice thank you from him. And how wonderful he called his own circle!! ( what good modeling! he’s had!) Will he have his own wheels up here?

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, he will have his own wheels! And, again, thank you to you and Ken for hosting us so well when we came to look at SSU. Ann

  6. Eileen Jackson
    Eileen Jackson says:

    What a wonderful account of such a proud event in your lives. I remember when. You have had such a wonderful influence on this whole family. Bless you both. You are both loved much.

  7. Tenneson
    Tenneson says:

    Kudos indeed! Congrats to Jaden and All. Fun to see pictures of him grown a few more years since I last saw. And good to have a Grandma in witness! 🙂

  8. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    My nephew graduated this year as well. Quite a different college experience than anyone anticipated but he took advantage and graduated a full semester early. When you describe the need this world has for smart, young minds and a true moral center, I couldn’t agree more. I think this generation has a lot of promise and a lot of work ahead. Thanks always for helping to educate and shape these young minds. I have hope! You two look great. Your pride is showing 🧡

  9. Bonnie Marsh
    Bonnie Marsh says:

    So descriptive! Took me back to my own graduation (with tears streaming down my face), a zillion years ago!

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, a zillion years is all the more accurate any of us wants to be these days. Note that I did not give the exact number for me either. Love to you, Ann

  10. Larry Houff
    Larry Houff says:

    I so enjoy these blogs because they are what’s happening in the real world. A scary place, but we shouldn’t be afraid. I really believe in goodness and trying our best to succeed. Just treat each other well. That’s all I have Ann. You rock!

  11. Margaret L Brown
    Margaret L Brown says:

    We were all inspired by Jaden, both his maturity and his enthusiasm. College teaching has been very challenging the past four years. Jaden and his friends made me hopeful–this is how it always is, to be young and full of hope for a new chapter.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, Margaret. The presence of both you and Frank really meant a lot to us. With appreciation for making the long journey. Your sister, Ann

  12. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Congratulations to Sally & Joe and to all the 4 grandparents who undoubtedly made an incredible difference in Jaden’s life. We have always been impressed with Jaden and for the wonderful young man he has become!

  13. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    Thank you, Ann, for sharing this heartfelt story (so much pride read in and between the lines!) What I felt most was the family love and the appreciation of each relationship to the other throughout the whole family. Very special and something to be cherished. What joy to celebrate the next steps both for Jaden but also for his sister, his parents and his grandparents! Many moments of pause in this story. I couldn’t help but see in my mind’s eye your big smile from ear to ear!

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      You are so right, Jeanne, a big smile from ear to ear. And when I wrote the last sentence I totally teared up. Still can’t read it without tearing up. Love, Ann

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, such is life! The circles keep repeating themself∏—thank goodness for the optimism and energy of youth. We need them!


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