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531 seniors depart Central Valley High School
• Grads sent off with speeches, hugs
Natalia Armas Perez
Central Valley High School valedictorian Natalia Armas Perez began her speech thanking all for attending a celebration of “hard work, growth, and cram studying.” - photo by Photo courtesy of Ceres Unified School District

The Central Valley High School graduated its class of 2024 in an outdoor ceremony held Friday evening which included tears, speeches, songs, laughs and farewells.

A total of 531 graduates marched onto a packed football field and filed into seats facing the platform before a crowd of proud parents, siblings, relatives and friends.

Vivian Navarro belted out the National Anthem as colors were posted by American Legion Post 491, followed by Senior Class President Tim Mullins who gave the welcoming address.

At Central Valley High, all graduating seniors who achieve a grade point average of 4.0 or higher attain the distinction of being a class salutatorian. They were: Carlos Aguilar, Jacquelin Aguilar, Melissa Alvarez Mora, Ruth Avila Lopez, Rosalinda Castrejon, Dianney Castro, Samuel Chavez, Tatyanni Coconi, Angelica Coria, Amerie De La Torre, Natalie DeJesus, Bryant Garcia Lopez, Albert Gonzales, Jonathan Gonzalez, Jacqueline Gonzalez Quiroz, Jaylie Guerra, Llarely Gutierrez, Jaretzy Hernandez-Celedon, Lliria Lira Trinidad, Victoria Molina, Issac Mullins, Ryan Nghiem, Karla Orozco, Dasjeet Pattar, Aracely Ramirez Sanchez, Karen Ramos Garcia, Arneet Randhawa, Daniela Rodriguez Larios, Erik Sandoval, Jesus Silva, Axxel Chandler Tan, Elizabeth Tejeda, Leslie Vargas Rios, Leilanie Ware, Anthony Yu, Sabrina Zavalza and Daphane Zuniga Garibo.

Valedictorian Natalia Armas Perez started her speech thanking all for attending the celebration of “hard work, growth, and cram studying.”

“Our warped version of a freshman year marks us as the last high school class impacted by the pandemic,” said Armas. “Some consider this a bad thing, others a flex. Take your pick. Either way, high school taught us lessons that transcend the scope of what a test can measure. Academic challenges shined a light on perseverance and exploring our future callings. Teacher-student interaction and the friends we hoped to sit next to in class emphasized what it means to nurture relationships. In reality, the Class of 2024 surpasses the confines of a simple textbook definition.”

She likened the high school experience as “a pit stop on a long road trip” and is “just the beginning of something much greater.”

Armas concluded by telling her fellow classmates: “Hold your head high and be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Tomorrow will burn brighter than ever before, so bask in the endless possibilities and look forward to what life has in store.”

Salutatorian Isaac Mullins gave brief remarks.

”I have thought long and hard about what single price of advice I could give this graduating class that would leave a profound enough impact on you guys and I just kept circling back to two words – love people,” said Mullins. “Now I don’t necessarily mean in a romantic context even though a lot of you guys have that covered, rather I mean in an agape context. Now agape is a little bit of a different world, right, and that is a Greek word and it means  unconditional love. It means that you love people despite the fact that they haven’t earned it, they don’t deserve it and why? Because people are worth it.

He answered saying that “it not only changes them but it also changes us.”

Mullin told the senior class: “Go out and change the world and as you do remember those two words: to love people.”

Salutatorian Daniela Rodriguez Larios also spoke at the graduation reflecting on the “bittersweet” occasion.

Because of the pandemic and shutdown of the school system, the class didn’t walk onto the campus until March 2021 instead of August 2020.

“Without realizing it we’ve experienced so much together, from freshman year and the zoom P.E classes where we did jumping jacks while sitting down, to devious licks sophomore year, wondering why there were no soap dispensers in the restrooms, to the world cup and knowing why no one was paying attention in classrooms, and rounding us off senior year when we won our crosstown trophy back,” said Rodriguez. “Unknowingly though, we have also experienced many lasts; whether it has been our last time cheering at a homecoming game, our last time dancing at prom, or our last time talking to our favorite teachers. Although this can be upsetting for some, last times allow for new firsts regardless of what the future holds for us. Though it can be hard to believe, this is the very first page, not where our story line ends.

“Before I part I would like to give you all a few words of advice. Always remember that achieving anything significant in life requires taking risks. Challenges and adversities will arise, but it’s crucial to understand that success doesn’t come from comfort. Growth happens outside your comfort zone —because if you never bleed you’re never gonna grow. So approach life with courage and unwavering faith, knowing that you’ll be alright, and know it’s for the better. Because there is no loss in taking risks, either you succeed, or you learn.

“Remember life is not a spectator sport. Your life is shaped by your actions, not something that just happens to you. So be open minded to new experiences. Embrace every moment. Always treat people with kindness.”

She finished quoting rap singer Armando Christian Pérez known as “Pitbull”: “This is for everybody going through tough times, believe me, been there and done that. But every day above ground is a great day, remember that.” 

Before members of the School Boarded handed out diplomas, Principal Casey Giovannoni reflected on the accomplishments of the class despite the adverse impacts from the COVID lockdown and distance learning.

“These students may have come to us as little boys and girls, but now they leave us as young adults,” said the principal. “They came to us from here, Ceres, but they also came to us from many different places, too: from Mexico, from India, from Honduras. They came to us speaking different languages: Arabic, Punjabi, Spanish, Vietnamese. What united them, though, was a common goal – since kindergarten, they had been placed on a path, which, if navigated successfully, would result in them earning a high school diploma and being prepared to enter the world beyond public education.

“Thirteen years. How long ago was it that you applied yourself to a goal that would take 13 years to accomplish? Focusing on a goal for only a few years can be challenging for most all of us, me included. And yet, nevertheless, these 531 students did just that.”

Giovannoni said the 531 graduates “are the embodiment of resilience” in having prevailed over 13 years of ups and downs, wins and losses, laughter and tears.

“They represent the power of the human spirit – the sheer will to win. Nothing could stop them from earning their diplomas – not even a worldwide pandemic.”

He closed with a line from William Shakespeare: “The world’s mine oyster.”

“Like Shakespeare explained, your future – your destiny – is yours to make. It can be an empty oyster shell or such a shell replete with a glittering pearl. Only you can determine that. Your future is in your hands.”

Salutatorian Daniella Rodriguez Larios
Salutatorian Daniella Rodriguez Larios was among the speakers at Friday’s commencement exercises for Central Valley High School. - photo by Photo courtesy of Ceres Unified School District
Senior Class President Tim Mullins
Senior Class President Tim Mullins told his fellow graduates that they need to go through life loving people in an unconditional way. - photo by Photo courtesy of Ceres Unified School District