The 220 seniors at Paradise High School celebrated more than just receiving their diplomas at the school’s commencement ceremony on Thursday. They celebrated the resiliency of their community.
The deadly Camp Fire devastated the California town of Paradise last fall. Since then, Paradise students have grappled with rebuilding their lives while living in temporary homes and studying in makeshift classrooms.
Paradise High School was left standing after the fire but the school had to relocate. Of the 900 students who attended Paradise before the fire, about 500 students relocated to a temporary campus in an office complex while 175 took classes online and the rest transferred.
Senior class president Garrett Malcolm told his classmates that one word defined Paradise: strength.
“We weren’t raised to be quitters, to just give up when times get tough,” he said in a video of the graduation ceremony, which was held at the school’s football field.
Malcolm said the fire failed to destroy the spirit of the town or the school.
“Because of the place we’ve been raised in and the people we’ve grown up with, we’ll always carry the name and the spirit of Paradise, not because of its death but because of its life and what it stood for,” he said.
The fire destroyed most of the homes in Paradise and forced many students and faculty to find new places to live. Some moved away, but the ones who remained worked to keep the school alive.
Nathan Daley, one of seven valedictorians, said classrooms were set up in a warehouse near the Chico Municipal Airport, nicknamed “the Fortress.”
“I can see a parked airplane outside the window of my English class,” he said laughing. “It’s been so absolutely makeshift and I loved it.”
Students excelled, despite the hardships. The school has a high number of seniors heading to college and eight of 17 school teams won championships, Daley said.
“We didn’t just crawl across the finish line bloody and broken – we exploded through it and exceeded all expectations,” he said.
The Camp Fire broke out November 8 last year and covered more than 153,000 acres. Authorities said it caused 85 deaths and destroyed almost 13,972 homes, 528 businesses and 4,293 other buildings.
Last month, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection revealed that the fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electricity Co.