Nearly 1,000 high school graduates from the class of 2019 went through graduation ceremonies last week at Cesar Chavez, Delano and Robert F. Kennedy high schools to the cheers and acknowledgements of thousands of their family and friends.
All three campuses, right after each welcome, asked for a moment of silence for former Delano Joint Union High School Superintendent Terri Nuckols, who passed away from cancer earlier this year after she retired. During her long term with the district, Nuckols served as principal at Delano High School for several years.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY HIGH SCHOOL
On June 5, Kennedy had the smallest class at 294 seniors going through the school's ninth commencement. Principal Raudel Rojas welcomed parents and lauded them for raising their children.
"We also want to honor all those who helped the class of 2019 along the way," Rojas said. "Teachers, coaches, friends and others helped reach this milestone in your life."
He also noted that 2019 was the fourth year as principal at Delano's only westside high school.
"That makes you my first graduating class, because you were freshmen when I started," Rojas said. "It was a fantastic four years, and it is a journey we completed together."
"Some of you have known each other since kindergarten," he said. "Others you met here at RFK. Either way, we hope these memories you have made here will last a lifetime."
Class valedictorian Mabel Arellano said her fellow Thunderbirds "will look back with fondness during our short, wonderful years at Robert F. Kennedy."
"For some of us our dream university is on the horizon, joining the military or heading to the workforce," Arellano said. "We hope that special moment you feel is euphoric."
RFK's Most Respected Teacher Joaquin Alvarado seemed very surprised by his night's distinction, but was very appreciative to the senior class.
"Thank you for voting for me," Alvarado said.
"Many of your parents go to work before the sun rises," he said, referring to many of the students' parents who are farmworkers. "The first place you learn to be a team is your family. Part of being a team is not being alone."
"Tomorrow, after the celebration from tonight, you will need to focus on what's next," he said. "Some of you don't want to take risks because you might make mistakes. Now, you must be responsible for your decisions."
Alvarado spoke of the Kennedy High's football team's latest Valley Title, the work, effort and sacrifice needed to win that distinction.
He then referred back to his students' hardworking parents.
"Your parents came to this country for a better life, much like I emigrated here for the same reason: a better life," Alvarado said.
Delano Joint Union High School Superintendent Jason Garcia presented the class of 2019, and Kennedy High staff called the names of those graduates, who walked up to get that which those students worked so hard for: a diploma.
CESAR E. CHAVEZ HIGH SCHOOL
On June 6, Cesar E. Chavez High School had its 14th annual commencement ceremony which started in the high 90-degree heat. But by the end of the night, temperatures were not so bad.
Chavez High Principal Uriel Robles was the first to speak to the crowd.
He congratulated the parents in the audience on helping motivate the students who were graduating. He spoke of the pride he felt a few days earlier watching his own daughter graduate from kindergarten.
"As a parent, you have such a moment of pride, and all my daughter can think of is that she will be able to play in the big kids playground," Robles joked. "You have accomplished a lot during these four years."
He offered advice like visit as many places as possible.
"Celebrate everything, even the small steps of your overall goal," he said. "And take as many selfies as possible."
Chavez valedictorian Mayra Lara said, "It seemed like yesterday that we walked into the gates of Cesar Chavez High School as proud freshmen, and then realized that you had no idea where your first period class was."
"And now you have shared some unforgettable memories with those sitting next to you," Lara added. "We persevered through all of our hardships."
And how could Chavez's Most Respected Teacher Russell Lentz forget the night as he was serenaded with "Happy Birthday" by the graduates, along with applause.
"Keep being who you are," Lentz said. "Each one of you is being recognized for something special."
"And if you need to change, change what is best for you," Lentz added. "It is never too late to make a change."
Superintendent Garcia then came up and addressed the 332 graduates.
DELANO HIGH SCHOOL
Delano High School Principal Rene Ayon got to do something Friday night that not many administrators get to do: participate in a three-digit commencement. Ayon oversaw the Tigers 106th annual graduation.
He asked his class of 2019 to give something back to their parents and family: a standing ovation.
"Your parents are your biggest advocates and biggest cheerleaders," Ayon said. He also began his principal tenure when the graduates were freshmen.
"You will go down as one of the most decorated classes in school history," he said.
He spoke of 24 students having a GPA of over 4.0 and 64 eight-semester honor roll students.
The school also had more dual-enrollment units than any other, he said. Delano High School also had another California Distinguished School designation (along with Cesar Chavez High School).
After building his seniors up, Ayon offered them some advice.
"Never settle for anything less than great," he said. "Strive for greatness in everything you do."
"Now we can welcome you into the Tiger Alumni Family," Ayon said proudly. "Once a Tiger, always a Tiger."
Delano's Most Respected Teacher, Catherine Starling, spoke frankly of her early life, and how it was so opposite of the reality of what Friday's students were achieving.
"This is the best high school in Delano," Starling said brightly. "And most of you know, I never graduated from high school."
"I didn't wonder about my future when I was your age," she said. "Because I was working three minimum-wage jobs to support my young daughter."
Other obstacles she had to battle included her being bullied because of Tourette's Syndrome and living out of a car in San Diego.
Starling told the graduates that she went to college at 39, not 18.
"It motivated me to arise and overcome those situations," she said. "Looking at all of you, you flew over speed bumps to be here tonight. Look at any obstacle as a speed bump, and fly over that speed bump."
Class valedictorian Mariano Balbuena, who also graduated last month from Bakersfield College with an associate's degree, plans to pursue a medical doctor major at UCLA.
He spoke about how he and his classmates were already changing Delano.
"Only 45 percent of Delano residents have a high school diploma," Balbuena said. "We are already changing that for Delano."
"You could be the first to graduate from your family," he said. "You need follow our dreams to become what we always wanted to be. Our opportunity to leap forward."
Balbuena also noted that only 27 percent of Delano residents had attempted a college unit, and only 7 percent finished a college degree.
"So, once again, we are changing our community," he added.