Graduating Paradise Strong
By Philip Arndt
On Nov. 8, 2018, the town of Paradise witnessed the most destructive and devastating wildfire in California history. The lives of Paradise residents were changed forever when the Camp Fire decimated most of the town, destroying nearly 14,000 homes and numerous businesses and burning more than 150,000 acres.
Although much of the town was destroyed by the fire, a few structures remained, including Paradise High School. It became a symbol of the community – something the town needed, a marker in the sand that Paradise was here to stay.
Students and teachers were not allowed to return to Paradise High School after the fire, but the Superintendent of schools declared that in June graduation would take place on the football field. The challenge was to get the school safe, clean, and ready in time for graduation, while continuing to address the widespread damage throughout the campus.
Paradise High School’s longtime motto “Rise Up” is a fitting way to describe the grit, courage, and determination displayed throughout the community. The motto inspired our employees, as part of our team’s 2019 Comcast Cares Day volunteer efforts, to approach Paradise High School administrators and offer to help restore and renew the campus in preparation for the graduation ceremony.
On May 4, our employees and their families, Paradise High School students, their families and friends, teachers and administrators, and Paradise residents, along with volunteers who, in some cases, traveled more than 200 miles, joined together to be part of something special. Together we painted the football field bleachers and walls throughout the school, fixed tables and benches, pulled out old trees and bushes and planted new ones. We thought we would get 400 to 500 volunteers; nearly 1,000 came out on that Saturday morning.
As a result of the tremendous work of those volunteers, on June 6, we stood alongside the community of Paradise and watched more than 125 seniors walk across the football field of Paradise High School and accept their diplomas. It was a moment I will never forget, and one that will forever serve as a reminder of the power we have to change lives when we come together to make a difference.
Since graduation, our community has continued to rebuild and support each other. Today, I'm proud to be one of the volunteers who welcomed a new class to Paradise High School as it reopened its doors and classes began for the first time since the fire. We have - and always will be - Paradise Strong.
Philip Arndt is the Director of Government Affairs for Comcast in Sacramento, CA.