PMP251: You Can Do Hard Things, featuring Samantha Bartrom

This week marks the end of June 2021, and just today I heard from a principal friend, Andrew O’Farrell,  West Islip Unified School District in Massapequa, New York, who is enjoying his first week of summer vacation. Other schools across the U.S. have been enjoying break since the end of May. 

Wherever you are, I bet it is safe to say that graduation has been one of the most exciting times as you wrap up your school year. And 2021 has a special place of significance for graduating classes and the educators and communities who have served them through a year like no other.

With that well-earned celebration in mind, I am really excited that Principal Samantha Bartrom from Coastal Academy High School in Oceanside, California, shared a link to her graduation ceremony with the Principal Matters Mastermind community and me. Watching her speech was a moment of poignance and sentimentality. In fact, I was so moved by listening to her words to her school community, I asked permission to re-broadcast the speech as this week’s podcast episode.

As you listen, please give yourself permission to rewind the clock on this past year. Think about the lessons you and your school community learned together. Think about the resilience, hard work and dedication you saw demonstrated. And give yourself permission to congratulate yourself on being able to do hard things.

Thank you, Samantha Bartrom and Coastal Academy High School for permission to share your speech with Principal Matters listeners. A copy of the speech script is printed below, or you watch the speech via Youtube at this link:

Good afternoon Class of 2021: 

“Congratulations on making it to this momentous and special day — your high school graduation!  After this unforgettable and unpredictable school year, I am elated and grateful that l we are able to gather in person today to celebrate the resilient and inspiring Class of 2021. 

I’d like to take you back to March 2020, your Junior year. On March 4, 2020 Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency. Out of extreme precaution, on March 13th, 2020, Coastal Academy High School transitioned to home-based learning until after Spring Break. At this point, COVID-19 was still very new. Some students were disappointed and even a little worried.  Others were not distraught at all. Perhaps you welcomed the break from your day to day grind and hustle. Maybe you embraced the opportunity to do school in your PJs or with your best dog or cat friend on your lap. 

At that point in time, I don’t think any of us expected to spend 448 days doing the distance learning shuffle, pivoting back and forth between at-home, hybrid and in-person learning.  


There have been exactly 448 days since March 13, 2020. During those 448 days there should have been school dances, athletic events, spirit days, Food Truck Fridays and so much more. 

Class of 2021: I am so sorry you didn’t get to experience all of the many rights of passage that come with your Senior Year. 

Rather than focus on what you have missed or lost this school year, I’d like to draw your attention to just a few of the things you’ve gained. 

In the past 448 days, the Class of 2021 has exemplified the true meaning of a self directed learner.  You set goals, created new routines & adjusted to Zoom class. I think we’d all agree the hands down quote of this school year is, “You’re on mute.” 

In the past 448 days, the Class of 2021 has shown inspiring grit and resilience.  This school year threw curveball after curveball to our Stingray family.  It was really difficult at times to see a light at the end of this tunnel wasn’t it? 

Now Class of 2021, I’m not sure how much you know about baseball, (shout out to the Stingray Baseball team for winning the League Championship) but the thing about a curveball, is you don’t see it coming.  You think you know the exact direction and speed the pitch is coming, when all of a sudden, in a split second, it changes.  When this happens, you have two choices: you adjust to the curveball coming your way or you strike out. 

Class of 2021, the curveball I just described sums up your past 448 days. Seniors, you were presented with two choices. Accept and adjust to the massive learning curveball that came with distance learning.  Or give up.  

Where there is a will there’s a way and the class of 2021 proved this, every day, in every possible way. Seniors, this year you acknowledged and mourned the loss of what you expected your final year of high school to be.  Then, you pivoted. You moved forward with grace and class.  

You welcomed the opportunity to attend Mr. Whittaker’s Zero Period Government class from bed. You amused Mrs. E’s enthusiastic requests for participants to read King Lear.  And when given the green light to return to campus 4-days per week, the Class of 2021 returned to school quicker than any other class at CAH.   As a Principal, nothing made me prouder than to see the Seniors reminding the younger classes of what an incredible community we have here at CAH. Because of the example each of you set, we had over 80% of 4-day students return to school for in-person learning this semester. 

Ultimately, you demonstrated your ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and achieve excellence, anywhere, at home, in school and for some of you, on your break at work! Class of 2021, you have proven time and time again, YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS. 

Speaking of hard things, how can we forget your Sophomore year, the 2018-2019 school year. What do the letters QLN mean to you?  We launched our 4-day, Summit and athletics program, all while starting our school year in a temporary facility. Do you remember the handbell I would ring to signal the end of class? Or what about getting lost in our maze of temporary classrooms trying to find your next class?  That year we all grew through adversity and embraced what it means to be STINGRAY STRONG.

Class of 2021: I say again, you can do HARD things! 

Congratulations on being the fourth graduating class of Coastal Academy High School! Many of you are graduating today having served as club officers, having played on multiple sports teams and taken many AP and/or community college classes. As individuals, you are a hard working, dedicated group who thoroughly deserves every ounce of success and celebration that comes with this momentous day.  Take pride in how far you have come! 

I’d like to recognize the entire Coastal Academy High School team of teachers and support team members for their dedication to our Stingray family. COVID-19 revealed the undeniable strength and commitment of Team Stingray.  This team was truly willing to do whatever it takes to serve students, even if that meant pushing past their own fears, in the spirit of what’s best for students. We have a truly remarkable group of professionals. Stingray team, please stand. Students & parents, please join me in recognizing the CAH team with a round of applause. 

I’d also like to thank the families of the graduates.

By the way, parents, the sign with your graduate’s name on it is yours to take as a memento from this special occasion. 

Parent partners: Your continued partnership via conferences, emails, home based support and donations is so appreciated. When I reflect on this school year, while challenging, I am profoundly grateful to have navigated distance learning with this special group of parents.  Our collective partnership was the glue that held us together and kept our program moving STINGRAY STRONG, all the way to the finish line.  Students, please join me in recognizing your parents with a round of applause. 

Now, back to the class of 2021: This is a truly defining moment for you. Each generation tends to have one.  My generation’s defining moment was 9/11. Now this is yours.  One day you will tell your kids and grandkids: “Back in my day, there was a global pandemic that led to the great toilet paper quarantine, everyone wearing masks and 448 days of the distance learning shuffle.”  

All of this to say, I hope you can find time to allow yourself to feel and recognize how significant of a moment this truly is. But also be sure to take time to have fun and recharge your batteries before your next big challenge begins.  

We wish you everything that you so richly deserve in the years ahead. It has been an honor and a privilege watching your progress and success! Congratulations Class of 2021! 

Now, having met and exceeded the graduation requirements set by the State of California as well as the expectations of Coastal Academy High School, it is my honor to present the class of 2021.

We will now confer the diplomas. Will the first row of seniors please stand and prepare to receive your diplomas.” – Principal Samantha Bartrom, Coastal Academy High School

Now It’s Your Turn

As you wrap up your school year, thank you for doing hard things. You deserve to re-charge and re-fresh for the days ahead. Thank you for doing what matters!

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker