Breaking down the history of Redwood graduation

Charlotte DeForrest

The crowd roars as students parade over the hill behind the amphitheater, holding their hands above their heads victoriously. Their red robes flap in the wind, and their caps display their aspirations following high school. This is the moment seniors have been waiting for since they first walked down Redwood’s green-tiled hallways four years ago; this is the graduation that Redwood seniors have grown to expect. 

But, due to this year’s COVID-19 guidelines, graduation will not be held in its traditional setting, and while this is disappointing for some students, it is not the first time Redwood’s graduation has switched venues. Over the years, whether it was graduating on Mount Tam or on the football field, seniors have found a way to come together and celebrate their high school accomplishments, no matter the location. 


The Mount Tam amphitheater was the site of Redwood graduation through the 60s and early 70s.

The Mount Tam Amphitheater

In the late 1970s, Redwood’s student body grew rapidly and had more than 1,500 students, forcing the administration to move graduation out of the now overcrowded gym and into the Mount Tam Amphitheater, a large circular outdoor auditorium where the Mountain Play is usually held. 

In 1983, Redwood alum Steve Catechi was a junior and member of the planning committee for graduation. Catechi remembers the atmosphere being incredible and left him looking forward to his own graduation. 

“[The Mount Tam Amphitheater] is a very spiritual space. You’re sitting up there, high on the mountain, overlooking the whole Bay Area. It’s full of metaphors: the vision into the future, together in the community. And you weren’t limited on guests. It was a very festive occasion,” Catechi said. 

However, according to Catechi, despite no previous accidents, the California State Parks Administration had concerns with the possibility of students drinking and driving following graduation. In 1983, they reached out to the graduation committee, giving them one chance to prove that they could continue operating graduation in a safe way.

Even though Catechi believes that the graduation went smoothly and all the conditions laid out by the state park were met, the park still denied Redwood access to Mount Tam for future assemblies, which left Catechi and the rest of the committee feeling disappointed. 

In contrast to Catechi, a 1984 Bark article reported that the administration had claimed the switch from Mount Tam to the football field was related to cost, logistics and Redwood’s public image. Regardless, the decision was opposed by the majority of the graduating class, with over 80 percent signing a petition against the change. 

“I would say a large majority of the [graduating] students were not big fans of the football field,” Catechi said. “During graduation, you’d look up at [a] mountain that you didn’t have access to and it sucked.” 


In an Oct. 12, 1984 edition of The Bark, seniors protest that they will not be graduating on Mount Tam.

Redwood Football Field

The following year, as a senior, Catechi attended his own graduation on Redwood’s football field. Redwood had built a stage on the 50-yard line for graduates to cross while friends and family spectated from the bleachers and chairs on the track.

Graduating with Catechi in 1984, Mitch Braff also remembers being let down by the fact that he would not be graduating on the mountain, although the event was memorable nonetheless. 

“[Graduation was exciting because] everyone was so spirited. [Everyone] decorated their gowns and caps and it really felt meaningful. I was really excited for my last summer of high school, so I had a lot of things to look forward to, but, at the time, [not graduating on the mountain] felt like a big letdown,” Braff said. “Although, in retrospect, it was not as significant as it felt when I was 17 or 18.” 

While the location differed from their expectations, both Braff and Catechi enjoyed being with friends and family regardless. 

“The value of [graduation], the beauty of it, is that [the graduates] get to be together. What we’ve learned in this last year is that it’s really not about the place, it’s about the people and the ability for us to all be together. That is something that maybe my year of graduates took for granted,” Catechi said. “Ultimately, graduation is about being connected and being in community.” 


Running up over the amphitheater, Frender and her classmates celebrate their graduation in 1990 (Linda Frender)

The Redwood Amphitheater

The Kreitzburg Amphitheater, better known as the Redwood Amphitheater, was built in 1988. As an optimal location for hosting a memorable graduation, the event was moved to Redwood’s amphitheater, where it was held until 2020. As one of the first classes to graduate in this new setting in 1990, alum Linda Frender remembers the amphitheater feeling fun and exciting.

“Graduating with my friends after four years of high school was obviously the main highlight. I loved coming up the back of the amphitheater and lifting our arms in the air, hearing the roar of the crowd and seeing the audience,” Frender said. 

An important aspect of graduation to Frender – and graduates from the last 20 years – is decorating graduation their wardrobes. While this year’s graduates will only be able to decorate their caps, in Frender’s year, the graduates decorated both their cap and gown with symbols that represented them and their plans after graduation. 

“It was just nice to recognize the conclusion [of high school] and celebrate four years of hard work and friendship as well as appreciate everything that we went through [at Redwood],” Frender said. 


Marin Civic Center Drive-In

As the pandemic hit and in-person school was closed, the 2020 graduation committee was forced to yet again change their graduation plans to keep the graduates safe and socially distant. Class of 2020 president and leading planner for graduation, Skylar Strotz, remembers this quick change of plans being difficult to navigate. 

Sitting outside their cars, the class of 2021 awaits their graduation. (Drake Goodman)

“It was hard to reevaluate how we were going to celebrate our class and all of our accomplishments. Everything with COVID-19 was so new and we didn’t know how to have [graduation] in a safe way that would celebrate everyone and make sure that all the seniors felt like they were being appreciated while still following county guidelines and staying safe,” Strotz said.

In the end, there were three separate graduations, each with one third of the class, which was held at the Marin Civic Center in a drive-in style. Graduates, their families and their friends sat in lawn chairs beside their cars while the names and photos of the graduating seniors were displayed on a blow up screen. In the week leading up to graduation, seniors were also able to participate in various events held both at school and in downtown Marin locations, which she believes helped bring spirit to the event. 

“It has been over a year now since we’ve been in this COVID-19 life, but back then it had only been about four months and I think people were pretty depressed, shocked and felt like they were losing a lot, so I think it was extra important that we had something to bring people together in the best way that we could,” Strotz said. 

Despite the last minute change, Strotz loved the week-long activities leading up to the event and preferred the drive-in style over the amphitheater because it was unique to her class. Even though this graduation was not what Strotz expected, she is still proud of the work everyone put in to make sure the celebration ran smoothly. 

“My favorite part was seeing how happy everyone was all week long, and then at the final ceremony as well,” Strotz said. “I think people really appreciated that we could be together because it was during the time when we have been so separate for so long that just being in the same parking lot with all of our friends and family was a good change of pace.”


Class of 2021’s graduation

With COVID-19 still impacting everyone’s day to day lives, leadership had to get creative in order to ensure a safe and festive commemoration of the class of 2021. This year, graduation will be held socially distanced on the football field with each graduate allowed to invite four viewers who will sit in a separate pod. Additionally, the event will be livestreamed for those who will be unable to attend. 

Originally, the plan was to have several graduations throughout the day, similar to the class of 2020 model. According to the Senior Class President Sima Alavi, the goal of graduation was to celebrate unity within the class, which was not possible with multiple graduations. 

“There’s a sense of finality at your graduation. It’s your final day seeing everyone and if it’s broken up into pieces, you don’t get to see everyone. Being there together definitely gives the feeling that this really is the end and this is our final goodbye,” Alavi said. 

But planning this year’s graduation was no easy task. With constantly changing regulations to adhere to, it was hard to ensure that students would still have a traditional and fun graduation. 

“We’re all very tired of the pandemic. So we want to make [graduation] as normal, enjoyable and memorable as possible. Especially because [seniors] are not getting a lot of the other traditional activities, like frolic and breakfast, we really want graduation to be memorable and have that sense of celebration,” Alavi said. 

Graduating in the amphitheater has become one of these traditions, and even though graduation will not be held at the amphitheater this year, Alavi is confident that graduates will enjoy their unconventional ceremony. 

“If there was a world in which we could all graduate from the amphitheater, we would go for it. Yes, it’s a little sad if you think about it, that we don’t get to do the amphitheater and the run-up, but it’s not that sad,” Alavi said. “I appreciate being able to do one graduation and how hard the administration has been working. What we ended up with, is still something really special and something that people will enjoy.”