Eighty-three TIDE Academy students walked across the stage of Foothill College with a bright yellow projection of the school name and mascot, the astronaut, on Tuesday night, June 6, to get their diplomas, becoming the first to graduate from the Sequoia Union High School District's newest school.
It was a moment of reflection for the Class of 2023, which weathered starting their high school experience on the Menlo Park campus under construction. TIDE Academy also experienced changes in school leadership and went through the unprecedented move to remote learning a little over halfway into their freshmen years in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
They spent most of their sophomore years at home, and it wasn't until junior year that they returned to in-person learning full time.
"With there being only about 80 of us in TIDE's first graduating class, we've had the opportunity to have something the large schools don't: feeling like a family," graduate Akya Burrell told the audience of Smithwick Theatre at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. "These past four years we have been through so, so much together. From my campus being under construction since freshman year to the construction across the street, causing a whole bunch of ruckus, a year and some change and virtual learning falling asleep on Zoom and making awkward exercise videos for P.E."
The 240-student magnet high school, located in a 45,000-square-foot, three-story building at 150 Jefferson Drive in Menlo Park, is focused on a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) curriculum. The school's proximity to companies like Meta, which is just blocks away, could help students develop mentorships, school officials have said. TIDE is an acronym for technology, innovation, design and engineering and is a reference to the school's proximity to the Bay.
It was the district's first new school in 60 years, according to former school board trustee Alan Sarver, and the school board's decision in 2013 to found TIDE wasn't just based on growing enrollment. The board was also "determined that this new high school should embody the creative spirit of Silicon Valley, and be focused upon knocking down the barriers that kept members of the community, most deeply impacted by big tech, from participating fully and equally in the industry that defines the region," he said.
Some graduates not only are receiving high school degrees, but also college-level career certificates through a partnership in which they could take courses at Foothill College while enrolled at TIDE, said Kristina Whalen, the college's president. One even earned an associate's degree in geography during their high school career, she said.
Speaker and graduate Micah Robinson said he appreciated his classmates' ability to advocate for themselves, recalling how during his freshman year students created a petition to change the school's math pathway.
Graduate Aryan Gupta said it's hard not to laugh at some of the crazy and difficult things that happened during their high school years. Gupta described the quirks of his teachers and shared how school officials bought students Subway sandwiches for the first two weeks of freshmen year to make up for the ongoing construction on campus.
"Whether it was trying to find our way through a construction zone or attending awkward school dances, we've certainly had our fair share of laughable moments throughout our four years and it hasn't always been so clean as the detergent (Tide) advertises," he said.
The crowd waved their phones in the air when graduate Luis Arroyo performed "Hey Soul Sister" by Train on ukulele.
The class honored the late Juan Carlos Figueroa Castaneda, a student at the school who died his freshmen year when he was shot in East Palo Alto in March 2020.
Principal Simone Rick-Kennel, who has headed the school for the last two years, and Vice Principal Tina Smith awarded diplomas.
View a video of the ceremony here.
Class of 2023: See of a list of TIDE Academy's inaugural graduating class, along with the ceremony program at bit.ly/TIDEgrad2023.