278 students graduate from Atascadero High School

All Photos by Becca Sligh

ATASCADERO — On Thursday, June 8, 278 of Atascadero’s brightest young minds made their way into the field of Memorial Stadium at the Atascadero High School campus to celebrate their hard-earned graduation.


The school’s 102nd Commencement started with the graduates heading onto the field accompanied by the Greyhound Band playing “Halls of Honor,” followed by “Pomp and Circumstance.” The Senior Choir was also highlighted with their moving, melodic version of the national anthem.

“On behalf of the class of 2023, I would like to welcome you to our graduation ceremony. We want to thank each and every one of you for the impact you have had on our lives and the love and the support that has gotten us here today,” said 2023 Senior Class President Emma Blais.

Superintendent Tom Butler presented both the Valedictorian and Salutatorian of 2023 with their medals, signifying their achievements in front of their friends and family in the stands.

“It is my honor to present to you the students that have achieved the two highest GPAs (grade point averages) for the class of 2023,” said Assistant Principal Jeff Spiller.

“The Salutatorian for the class of 2023 is Bella Brylewski. She is graduating with a grade point average of 4.7, has completed 15 Cuesta College classes, and is planning to study psychology at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA),” Spiller added. “The Valedictiorian of the class of 2023 is Shawky Bassil. Shawky is an extremely gifted young man who joined our district in third grade, speaking limited English. Today he’s graduating with a grade point average of 4.71. He will be majoring in biology at the University of Arizona, where he will then attend dental school. One day he would like to open a clinic in his native country of Syria.”

This year’s commencement speaker was Hannah Emmack. Emmack is no stranger to the stage, as she was a part of AHS’s drama department during her high school stint. Her speech was part of a competition and started off as if she was a flight attendant on an airplane.

“Welcome to High School, flight COVID-19,” she began. “Please put your tray tables up and fasten your seatbelts. You are about to spend the next 17 months on the tarmac. There’s a storm coming right over us, and we’ll have to wait it out. Previous freshmen would board their plane, taking them on their high school trip with a fairly good idea of where they were headed and what it might be like. Some bumps and turbulence, of course. There might be acne, social cliques, hard classes, and teachers that you might hate, but what nobody could have predicted was that our class would be stuck in a holding pattern for almost half of our high school experience.”

Emmack also stated that the Class of 2023 are the last AHS graduating class that experienced high school prior to the start of COVID.

“Okay, be proud of yourselves. You made it. We’re graduating today,” she added.

The Senior Choir then returned to perform the late, great Jonathan Larson’s “Season of Love” from his musical “Rent,” which seemed more than fitting after Emmack’s speech.

In his presentation of the Class of 2023, Spiller commented on the graduating class’s accomplishments over the last four years. Those include a baseball league championship, a CIF runner-up finish in boys basketball, a CIF title in boys water polo, 10 livestock champions at the California Mid-State Fair, five public speaking sectional championships, eight state FFA degrees, multiple improv shows and theater productions, 115 students completing career technical education pathways, the girls and boys swimming winning league titles, while the football team brought home the league title, the CIF championship plaque, and became Atascadero’s first ever football state champions, to name just a few of their accomplishments.

“After watching you all over the last four years, I am confident that nothing will stand in your way,” Spiller said. “You will persevere, you will get back up when you fall down, and you will continue to be scholars and champions. Class of 2023, you have made us proud.”

The 278 students were certified to get their diplomas and received them to shouts, cheers, and a ton of confetti cannons from their family and friends in the stands celebrating everything they’d been through, worked hard for, and succeeded in during their time at AHS.

“Mr. Spiller, Superintendent Butler, and members of the Board of Trustees, on behalf of the Class of 2023, I accept the diplomas of graduation. Seniors, please rise. You may move your tassels to the left,” said Blais on her return to the podium.

“Family and friends, I present to you the graduating Class of 2023. Graduates, you can go ahead and toss that cap,” concluded Spiller to the cheers of the crowd and students.

Congratulations, Class of 2023!