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379 seniors exit Ceres High
Jade Harrell
Jade Harrell, one of two class valedictorians, delivered a Ceres High commencement address from her wheelchair, getting laughs about not being to stand before the crowd to speak. - photo by Jeff Benziger

The senior class of 2022 left behind four years at Ceres High School Thursday evening, sent off by a cool breeze and warm wishes from family and friends.

The 379 graduates filed into Bulldogs’ athletic stadium to the familiar tune of “Pomp & Circumstance” played by the combined bands of Ceres High. It would be their final time together.

After graduates were settled, the Ceres High School Wind Ensemble, featuring seniors Kyle Hebb, Justine Silva and Monica Castillon, played the Star Spangling Banner.

Graduate Gurmannet Bahia, ASB president, welcomed the crowd.

“In the beginning of the year many of us just wanted to graduate and move on with our future plans but now looking back here tonight makes me realize that I wish that time went slower,” said Bahia.

She said obstacles like COVID “makes us stronger as individuals.”

“Always be willing to face the challenges that come at you and in the process you’ll learn your true self,” Bahia told the sea of classmates. “No matter what challenges you face be the best version of yourself possible. Be great by your own means and push yourself to achieve your dreams because you only have one life so live it to the fullest no matter what comes in the way.”

She thanked her family, friends and Ceres High School staff for supporting her along the way.

Senior Class President Victoria Ochoa looked back and shared that “coming into high school most of us had this idea of what we should achieve and what our high school experience would be like. The journey getting us to this point in our lives has not been easy. Halfway through high school something happened that none of us would have ever expected which changed the course of our high school careers. The visons we had for our senior year at the beginning of our freshman year might not look remotely like what we expected. However, despite the challenges we persisted. I mean, look at us, we’re all graduating high school – that itself is a huge achievement and you should all be proud of yourselves.”

Ochoa announced that the class is making a donation toward a mural in the “wellness center” inside the school library.

Rajneel Singh delivered his address, noting that he didn’t feel “fully deserving of the praise” of being salutatorian because “others are deserving of this praise as well.”

“There are students who come from low-income homes, single-parent households, experience homelessness and discrimination,” said Singh. “These soldiers of individuals come to school and pass their classes, maybe not gaining excessively high grades but that does not take away from the fact that they are deserving of the same praise given to me.

“Every student deserves recognition. What I am saying is that I am proud of you, every single one of you. If you go home today and don’t get praise or do not have a home to return to, or simply do not have a nice home to return to, just know that I am proud of you. I know that doesn’t fix any issues but you need to know that someone believes in you and what you are doing is okay. You may not be okay right now but that’s completely fine. I’m so proud of you for making it this far.”

Co-valedictorians Jade Harrell rolled up to the podium in her wheelchair and gave an address which began with downplaying her status as one of the top students grade-wise.

“I feel as though I’ve been given some sort of special gift or privilege that I don’t really deserve and I don’t necessarily mean that in a degrading way,” said Harrell. “It’s more of that I’m not very special in comparison to any of you. We all have something we’re good at yet here I am, up here, giving a speech, when really all of you could be doing the same thing.”

She reflected on how others coped during the “great, almighty quarantine” and social isolation by being creative.

“School does not always encourage us or give us confidence in areas outside of math, science, English, and history,” Jarrell said. “And that isn’t necessarily bad, I mean, how could school do more for you than give you an education, given that education is its purpose? But I find that so fascinating that in a culture of heavy individualization that early-life institutions like school, and even some families, don’t encourage people in all directions from the start. So how do we fix this? We can’t rely on the system to work against itself, so the process of pursuing what’s best for ourselves must come from ourselves. We need to challenge the influence of others and ask ourselves if the things others are telling us is right for ourselves are actually right for ourselves. Don’t conform to the opinions of others too quickly.”

She opined that classmates who feel they are not good at much such “isolate from others for a while and find the things you are naturally motivated to do, regardless of school’s or people’s opinions, and once you reemerge from that discovery, chase after it.”

Co-valedictorian Sandra Espinoza thanked God and her supportive family for helping to get her through high school. 

“This journey has brought me to places I only dreamed of,” said Espinoza. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to be in the position that I am in. Growing up while being a Mexican American female and the eldest daughter in an immigrant household has had a great impact on my life. I continuously have experienced and witnessed the underrepresentation of minorities. I’ve seen generations after generations of my family not being able to live up their dream or further their education simply due to their race; because of the low opportunities available to us causing my family to choose work over education because they had to support not only themselves but their own family. And I’m sure many of you guys can relate to this. Being surrounded and witnessing the underrepresentation of minorities, I see many students not receive the recognition they deserve. Seeing that lack of recognition made me make a promise to myself that my path would be different.

“This is a huge day for each and every one of us,” continued Espinoza. “Not just for myself, but everyone who is here today has faced a numerous amount of trials and tribulations. For each and every one of you, you have your unique story. Many of you guys are the first to graduate in your family or even the first heading to college. So be proud of yourself because you did it.”

She then offered advice to her fellow seniors: to “push yourself every single day” and to take risks.

“The days that you just don’t feel like it are the days you have to push even harder,” said Espinoza. “From now on and moving forward it is up to us to decide what path we want to take. You are the only person who will get you to achieve your dreams and goals. However, you are also the only person who could hold yourself back. No matter what setbacks or bumps in the road that you may face, it is only up to you to persevere. Yes I know it is easier said than done. But trust me even if it seems like the world is against you and you find yourself stuck, remember that only you could change that.”

She also implored her classmates to “not ever settle … because at the end of the day no one else is going to get you where you want to be but you. This is your life, so take action to become the best version of yourself. Because many allow their circumstances to shape their lives and they conform to what they only have. But you need to be different and use every hardship, every setback, and every failure as motivation to become better. Think to yourself: what legacy do you want to leave behind in the world?”

Principal Rita Menezes sent off the class with some of her thoughts about the past four years.

“The class of 2022 will forever be remembers as the class that brought us back to normal, in-person learning,” said Menezes.

“There are exactly 180 school days in a school year and that amounts to 180 chances to show 

Ceres Unified School District Supt. Denise Wickham presented the class for diplomas, which were handed out by CUSD board trustees Betty Davis, Brian de la Porte, Faye Lane, Lourdes Perez, Mike Welsh and Hugo Molina.

The graduates ended their high school careers with the song ”I Lived” by One Republic and their families and friends crowded the field for photos and hugs.

Rajneel Singh
Ceres High School Salutatorian Rajneel Singh delivers his speech to graduates and guests. - photo by Jeff Benziger
Sun sets on CHS grads 2022
As the sun was setting on Thursday the high school careers of these Ceres High seniors was also coming to a close. - photo by Jeff Benziger
Valedictorian Sandra Esponoza
Valedictorian Sandra Espinoza delivers her commencement address. - photo by Jeff Benziger