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CVHS seniors graduate into the world
Nadia Aranda
Central Valley High School graduating senior Nadia Aranda removed her mask and smiled at another classmate during Thursday’s commencement exercises on the school athletic field. The graduates were spaced apart despite what the telephoto lens shot conveys.

Central Valley High School graduated its class of 2021 in an outdoor Thursday evening ceremony which was unlike any other in history.

A total of 447 graduates – all wearing masks – marched onto the athletic field on the campus past a socially distanced crowd of proud parents, siblings, relatives and friends. Two giant jumbotrons allowed the spread-out crowd to get close-ups of speakers and a parade of graduates.

The 14th graduation ceremony for the high school was also livestreamed on YouTube where it still may be viewed.

The ceremony concluded with tears, speeches, songs, laughs and farewells.

Siera Sandoval sang the National Anthem followed by Senior Class President Sabina Dhillon who gave the welcoming address.

“Wow! What a year! Being here feels surreal!,” said Dhillon. “This year really took its toll on everyone. But it also reminded us in the biggest way that we have to be compassionate, respectful, and understanding of one another. We have to care about each other. We have to take care of ourselves. As a society we have to respect one another and love each other. We may not always agree on everything, but we must remember, we will always have more in common than you think.”

Austin Taylor graduates
Austin Taylor smiles as he receives his diploma as Learning Director Kirsten Bartlett watches on. Behind him is Carina Alvarez. - photo by Jeff Benziger

She asked that her fellow graduates to not let the pandemic and government restrictions to “take away from all of your other great high school memories. This year, 100 percent, absolutely sucked, without a doubt, but remember that we had three years before COVID to keep in mind. Remember what it’s like to be with your friends all of those lunches and nutritions. Don’t forget our freshman year where every third period was interrupted with a fire alarm. And for all of those crazy rallies, all those amazing dances, fun spirit days, exciting Winterfest and homecomings! Remember those, not the zooms, never the zooms.”

Valedictorian Guadalupe Gonzalez Zepeda delivered an address in which she the class looks “forward to the future with high expectations and anticipation.”

“Tonight we are here with boundless freedom and potential to live a life we choose. We each have the purpose of advancing this world. Our method of doing so differs from which college we choose, to the career we pursue, and the unique triumphs and tragedies we will learn from.”

She urged her classmates to not be complacent and to try after failing.

“For this reason I challenge you all to pursue the passions you’ve been putting off for the right moment because the perfect moment will never present itself. Doing so will allow you to reach the success of being able to look back upon your life from your deathbed without regrets. Instead of a life where you simply wonder what could have been if only you had.”

Guadalupe also noted that money and recognition are not the only benchmarks of greatness, “rather, it is to leave those who we cross paths with a little happier and with more hope.”

She went on, saying: “As you strive toward your goals don’t be afraid to ask for help, after all, nobody is completely independent. So when you struggle, reach out to those that can encourage you and set you back on the right track. We have a long way to go, yet we’ve already made it this far. It won’t be easy, but that’s what makes the rewards worth it.”

Co-salutatorian Paola Campos was selected to deliver an address, saying that when she entered high school he thought the experience would be like a musical where “singing and dancing somehow solved everyone’s problems. I think many of my classmates would actually say going through high school was more like watching the Titanic go down.”

She quoted Heraclitus who said that “No person ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he/she is not the same person.”

“Going through high school was like stepping into that river. At first we didn’t know what we were doing, but then we started swimming. And what happened? The more involved we got at school, the more we learned about ourselves. We found out some of us are really good at playing soccer. Others can play any and every type of instrument. Many more are natural born leaders. We may not have excelled at everything we tried, but we had the opportunity to explore our interests, and that’s the truly important part.” 

Campos concluded by saying: “High school taught us that we have the potential to grow and overcome life’s twists and turns. We are a generation empowered by what we know, by what we believe, and we can go far if we are only brave enough to take a stand. So be brave and seize every opportunity presented to you. Class of 2021, if we are able to grow regardless of adversity, regardless of where life takes us, then as Kipling said, ‘the world and everything in it’ will be ours.”

Sharing in co-salutatorian honors were: Sydney Aguilar, Carina Alvarez, Sofia Amaral, Edith Amaya, Bandna Bhatti, Breana Bravo, Paola Campos, Destinee Cox, David Cuevas Sanchez, Adriana Huaracha, Simranjit Hundal, Sumiti Kumar, Miguel Lindoro, Cesar Lozano Valencia, Adrian Magana Lopez, Ahtziri Martinez, Zaida Martinez, Ronaldo Mendoza, Virginia Moore, Charmaine Omaque, Caleb Phillips, Johnny Rangel, Jesus Rosalez, Jose Sanchez, Siera Sandoval, Qalidra Sengsoury Williams, Phusadee Sivongxay, Ximena Soltero, Yareli Sosa, Austin Taylor, Maria Torres, Xitlali Toscano, Jada Vann and Emily Villegas.

Maria Torres delivered the Senior Spanish Address, noting that the same nerves and emotions graduates had at the event were the same as on the beginning day of high school in 2017.

She noted that the unprecedented change in American life starting in March 2020 demonstrated the resilience of many: “We spent an entire year taking online classes, missing out on school activities, and missing out on being with friends at school. Once again, we demonstrate our resilience in the face of such difficult times and the desire to continue learning. For this reason, this diploma that we are going to receive today shows all the effort that we have put into the school every day for the last four years.

“But this diploma not only represents our past, it is also the door to our new future. It contains the freedom that many of you have long awaited. Earlier, we joked that when school ended, it would be the day we would finally be free. Today that explains the feeling that many of us feel through the diploma we are receiving. Now we have the freedom to choose whichever path we are most passionate about. College, work, or the military are just some of the steps we will take to achieve our goals for the future. Whichever path we choose, we will all have something in common: today the doors are opening to a new beginning, a future that we deserve for the effort we have put into our education in recent years.

“Although it looks and feels like a simple piece of paper, the diploma we receive today is a symbol of much more: it is the work and effort of the past that makes us who we are today, and the opportunities that will make us better people in the future. And as Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt said ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’”

Principal Carol Lubinsky lauded her graduates for persevering through a difficult time.

“Simply by being here tonight you have demonstrated the ability to persevere through the worst of times and handle whatever life comes your way,” said Lubinsky. “You have learned to make adjustments and many of you have learned to excel in spite of the difficulties. Although you missed out of some of the content we would have liked to have taught you the skills I just mentioned will get you your life goals if you continue to practice them.”

She said that 98 percent of the class of 2021 at Central Valley High School graduated with 35 seniors with a grade point average of 4.0 or higher and 222 students who achieved a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

She continued that 69 students have earned their Seal of Biliteracy.

Seventy percent of the seniors are off to continued education while the rest are expected to enter the job force immediately. A breakdown of those college numbers show that 125 CVHS grads are headed off to a CSU, 89 of those to CSU Stanislaus in Turlock. Twenty-six are headed to the U.C. system, two are attending private colleges, two at four-year universities out of state and one in Mexico. Thirty-five percent of the college, or 162 seniors, have opted to attend a community college somewhere.

The principal singled out some seniors for special recognition, including Yulesa Castro, Rosendo Isai Rojas and Gabriella Benenati who earned their Future Farmers of America (FFA) State Degree.

Lubinsky also mentioned that despite the pandemic, the school had a Impulse Dance Team performance with Richard Alvarez, Breanna Bravo, Syke Catellanos and Karina Toribio performing on video on social media.

Alexia Larios and Simi Singh were celebrated for capturing first in the Virtual Skills USA Regional Virtual Production event.

Taking first place in the Mistlin Gallery 2D art competition was Ashley Corro, while Itzel Guzman took first in the MJC Collective for Mixed Media.

Michelle Garcia and Everado Mendoza were also cast in the YES Company’s 30th anniversary show in ensemble roles.

Grad waves
An unidentified Central Valley High School graduate was attempting to catch the attention of a relative sitting in the crowd before the class of 2021 began filing onto the graduation field. - photo by Jeff Benziger
Some parents were so far in the back away from graduation action that two jumbotrons were brought in for video viewing. - photo by Jeff Benziger
Unknown CVHS grad
A Central Valley High senior listens to a speaker moments before going forward to receive her diploma. - photo by Jeff Benziger