VENICE, Calif. – For Venice High School Senior Cailee Grayhorse-Pupecki, earrings are a way of expressing her identity.
"I'm a mixed kid. I'm Native American, black, Mexican, Italian, Irish, and Polish," said Grayhorse-Pupecki.
It's still a few days from her virtual graduation ceremony, but she's getting herself ready as if it were today.
She's coordinated her graduating class to get together to meet in their caps and gowns to support Black Lives Matter and to protest police brutality.
"We could take our energy that was taken away from having our own graduation and make it a graduation for black and brown lives and graduate for something that was beyond ourselves," she said.
Part of her message extends further into policing and education. With a force of about 400, LAUSD has the largest independent school police department in the nation.
On Monday, teacher's union leaders said they support a movement to eliminate the school district's police department and bring in mental health services.
"Sixty-eight million dollars worth of funds go to that police department while our black and brown communities and programs are struggling within schools," said Grayhorse-Pupecki.
As she and classmates assemble on the curb outside Venice High holding signs, passing motorists honk in support.
Grayhorse-Pupecki addresses her peers with a short speech.
"COVID-19 has blockaded us from our personal pathways and way of life, but it has led us to an oasis of time that has brought us to a new awakening," she said. "The students of Venice High may not walk the stage, but today we stand here in support of black and brown lives."
With protests happening over the past few weeks and students away from school and unable to have conversations about these issues together, Grayhorse-Pupecki hoped that her cap and gown protest could provide an empowering platform.
"I felt like the Venice community needed to come together because we're an example of a beautiful melting pot and I think we can make a really great stand," she said.
These seniors may not graduate on a stage, but they are using this turning point as their stage to be the change they wish to see in the world they will inherit.