Immaculate Heart High School Grads Return to Hollywood Bowl for 115th Commencement
Shimmering in white and bearing bouquets of red roses, 108 graduates exuberantly crossed the stage at the iconic Hollywood Bowl and received their diplomas during Immaculate Heart High School’s 115th commencement.
The June 2nd ceremony marked a milestone for the Class of 2021 – and the seniors clearly relished their achievement as they broadly smiled toward cheering families, friends and faculty.
The evening event also signaled a tentative return to “normal” after the pandemic forced the closure of the Hollywood Bowl last year and, in turn, prompted Immaculate Heart to hastily arrange an alternative ceremony for the Class of 2020 on its campus.
Since 1957, Immaculate Heart graduates have proudly taken center stage at the Hollywood Bowl with the notable exception of last year and the year when the Bowl itself underwent renovations. However, even as Los Angeles County has curbed the virus spread in recent weeks and venues like the Bowl have reopened, COVID-19 protocols still restricted Immaculate Heart’s traditional commencement, both in size and scope, this year.
For example, the graduates, still masked and socially distanced, were only allowed on the Bowl stage to receive their diplomas. They could not assemble on risers and sing their graduation songs by tradition under the Bowl lights. Instead, the students were scattered in box seats in front of the stage, where they listened to their recorded songs and watched their photos appear on the large IMAG (Image Magnification) screens that flanked the stage. Similarly, family members required tickets for admission and were spaced out accordingly throughout the Bowl’s increasingly higher seating sections.
And, yet, nobody complained.
Instead, the seniors – who had spent the majority of the past year isolated in their homes and in virtual classrooms – could barely contain their excitement as they processed into the venue, immersed in the moment and together, at last, with their classmates. Despite only one rehearsal under their belts, they flawlessly crossed to their boxed seats, forming patterns in fluid motion, much like game pieces moving to designated squares on a giant chess board.
Addressing the difficulties of the past year, class speaker Danielle Sanchez told her fellow graduates, “It is an understatement to say that we have been dealt a very challenging hand. However, again and again I am reminded by my classmates of the strength we have to continually push beyond adversity and see light – to be the change we wish to make and to guide others on the same path.”
Similarly, commencement speaker Tyra Banks, an Immaculate Heart alumna as well as a successful entrepreneur, TV personality and supermodel, acknowledged the resiliency of the students and encouraged them to make a positive difference in the world.
“Class of 2021, the world you live in today has presented you with unprecedented challenges and heartbreaking revelations that shout out for the need for deep change,” Banks said. “Because we are Immaculate Heart fighters and we don’t give up, we climb! Class of 2021, you all are leading a revolution, for this country, for the disenfranchised, for yourselves.”
The ceremony marked an emotional return to the Hollywood Bowl for Banks, who received her own diploma on that stage 30 years ago as a member of Immaculate Heart’s Class of 1991. “I have to be real with you and let you know it is one of the honors of my life to be here tonight,” she said.
Thanking the school community for the invitation to speak, Banks also thanked her parents who were in the audience in 1991 and again that evening. Recalling her own graduation, Banks said, “With a boat neck white gown, a bundle of fresh red roses in my arms, and my gold and black IHHS ring on my finger, I was ready to take on the world.”
“I would not be the woman I am today without this school,” Banks continued. “There’s something about Immaculate Heart. We have that Je ne sais quoi – we just can’t put our finger on it, but it’s extra special. Our teachers are next level. Our administration loves us. And the female power they instilled in me, from middle school to high school, still resides within me and continues to reside in me, and now resides in you, tenfold.”
Joining Banks on stage were theology chair Maria Pollia, who offered the commencement’s invocation, IHHS Principal Naemah Morris, who conferred the diplomas, and IH President Maureen Diekmann, who expressed her gratitude to everyone present.
“I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge and thank every member of the Immaculate Heart School Community for their patience, creativity and resilience over the past 15 months,” Diekmann said. “Your support and commitment to each other and to our school is truly a testament to being of great heart. You make us proud – and we shine in your reflected glory.”
About Immaculate Heart
Founded in 1906, Immaculate Heart High School & Middle School educates and empowers young women in sixth through 12th grades from its central location in the Los Feliz foothills near Griffith Park. The school has a long and distinguished history, with more than 10,000 graduates. Today’s student body of more than 700 young women is both geographically and ethnically diverse, drawing on students from throughout Los Angeles County. Last year, virtually 100 percent of Immaculate Heart graduates matriculated to colleges, including the most prestigious schools in the country.