CAMP ZAMA, Japan – The Camp Zama community came together May 24 to celebrate Zama Middle High School’s graduating class of 2023.
Hundreds of family, friends and community residents gathered at the school for an outdoor ceremony for the 53 graduates.
Vice Principal Natasha Anderson said the day marked the next chapter in the graduates’ lives and that it was likely filled simultaneously with excitement, worry and a sense of freedom.
“While all these emotions arise, you are well prepared for what the world holds,” Anderson said. “Your skills have prepared you for whatever unfolds to be successful.”
Anderson said the graduating seniors already have big plans.
Thirty-eight students plan to attend four-year colleges, including eight in Japan; five students will attend two-year colleges; six will either attend trade school or immediately enter the workforce; three will enlist in the military; and one student plans to take a gap year before attending college in the fall of 2024.
The students earned a combined $829,432 in scholarships. That included three students who earned full-ride Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarships.
“Considering the Zama community is surrounded by a pillar of [the] armed forces, it’s great to know we have three students who have earned this prestigious funding,” Anderson said.
Senior class president Mary Navarro shared memories of her nine years in Japan and said she was grateful to be graduating with her classmates, some of whom she has known since fourth grade.
“Although we have all had our ups and downs throughout the years, I have still made so many memories that I will never forget,” she said. “Our group of 53 graduates may be small, but I know we will all make an impact.
“Whether you’re going to college, joining the military, taking a gap year, or joining the workforce, I know that you will all accomplish your goals one way or another,” she added. “Good luck with your endeavors and I hope our paths cross again.”
Navarro was followed by co-salutatorians Jessica Horton and Bryan Ponce.
Horton thanked the school staff “who have guided us with unwavering patience, believing in our potential even when we doubted ourselves.”
She also urged her fellow graduates to continue to challenge themselves.
“As we embark on the next phase of our lives, let’s not forget the importance of taking risks,” Horton said. “Remember, it was Albert Einstein who said, ‘A ship is always safe at shore, but that is not what it’s built for.’ So, let’s go out there, explore the world, chase our dreams, and wear mismatched socks if that’s what makes us happy!”
Ponce said he was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and pride.
“[I have] gratitude for the experiences, support and opportunities that have shaped us into the remarkable individuals we are today, and pride in each and every one of you for your accomplishments, resilience and unwavering determination,” Ponce said.
He also gave a personal thank you to all the families of the graduates.
“You have stood by us through every challenge, celebrated our victories, and provided a safe haven where we could grow and thrive,” he said. “Without your sacrifices, encouragement and belief in us, we would not be standing here today, ready to embark on the next chapter of our lives.”
Class valedictorian Sara Michelle Naquin said she was very proud of the positive changes her classmates were able to initiate this year.
“From innovative ideas to improve campus life to acts of kindness and service, we have left an enduring mark on ZMHS,” she said. “When I walk into school, hard-working students have transformed the walls from a dull brown to the black and white of our school colors, adorned with our Trojan mascot. Our relationship with our host nation and our environment is tighter than ever with our campus clean-ups and off-base volunteer events. As we move forward, let us inspire future students to continue this legacy of compassion.”
She said getting to attend school on an overseas military base, while not always easy, is something the students should cherish for life.
“We students have been blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to live in such a diverse environment,” she said “Living in Japan has provided us with a broadened worldview that many can only dream of having.”
Zama Middle High School is unique in that it serves military youth from two different installations and branches of service. The school is located on Camp Zama, home to the headquarters of the U.S. Army in Japan. But middle and high school students are also bussed from nearby Naval Air Facility Atsugi, making it a truly joint community.
This year’s graduation keynote speaker was NAF Atsugi’s Command Master Chief Weba Roberts.
Roberts shared her own story of realizing the collegiate path she started after high school wasn’t her true calling, despite her family’s expectations. She said as a pre-med major, she dropped out of college her senior year.
“That decision led me to evaluate how else I could live a life of service that was purposeful without a college degree,” she said.
She ended up joining the Navy in 1996, and has since earned her college degree and achieved the highest military enlisted rank.
“Never in my wildest dreams as a high school senior did I envision this future for myself,” she said. “But that’s what makes life fun.
“Possibilities are the future that only you have control of,” she added. “Even if you have to press the reset button a few times, persistence and resilience will get you far.”