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Maria Ruiz at the top of CHS class
Maria Ruiz and Yubana Pulido knew back as freshman that they were both on track to take the top honors of the Ceres High School class of 2009. They claim that they didn't care who became valedictorian and who became salutatorian - as long as they were filling those positions.

"We didn't care who was first or second as long we were both," said Yubana (pronounced U-bana).

As it turns out, they were right. A grade point average of 4.29 snagged Maria the role as class valedictorian while Pulido's 4.05 GPA earned her the second-place spot.

Both young women are looking forward to carving out successful lives. Both were raised by Mexican immigrant parents who stressed the value of staying focussed and working hard at a free education they didn't receive while growing up.

Yubana's father was not able to attend school in Mexico because schooling is not free nor is it adequate. "He always pushed me to do better in school so I could accomplish what he was unable to," said Pulido.

Yubana was born in the United States but spent the first years of her life in Mexico. Her parents moved back to Mexico expecting the birth of her sister. The intent was to stay only 15 days but they stayed four years. When they returned to the U.S., Yubana didn't enroll in public school until the middle of her second grade year.

"So I never finished first grade and never started second grade," she said.

Apparently the loss of the grade levels didn't affect her academics. Her parents taught her reading and numbers.

"When I was at the kindergarten level I already knew my multiplication tables," commented Yubana.

Maria, 17, the daughter of Jose and Elena Ruiz of Ceres, is headed off to U.C. Berkeley. She chose Berkeley because she considers it a "really, really, really good school and it's not really far away. I want to leave but I don't want to leave very far." She is an undeclared major but psychology intrigues her.

"Just not a doctor or lawyer," said Maria. "I've thought about psychology. Like in advertising. Like get into their heads to get them to buy whatever."

Maria feels honored to be educated since many of her older siblings missed out at a chance for higher education. She has four brothers and two sisters. One sister is a fifth-grade teacher and a brother graduated UCLA and is in economics. The rest are in construction.

Work ethnic is strong in both families.

"My mom stressed that a lot," said Maria of working hard.

Yubana, 17, the daughter of Jorge and Maricela Pulido of Keyes, will start school in the fall at U.C. Merced. She will be making the daily commute for a year and then hopes to transfer to U.C. Irvine to study business administration and management accounting.

"I'm actually very, very excited," said Yubana of college. "I just feel like it'll be a little bit more independent. I'll still be living with my parents and everything but like when I was in high school I've always been closed up. Everything has been school, school, school. I barely go out. After I graduate I want school to be my priority but also try to fit in more fun and more of a life."

Maria spent Wednesday morning in Principal Bob Palous' office going over some of the finer points of her valedictorian address she will deliver on Friday evening. The conversation was friendly but took on the tone of civil disagreement of opinion. Maria asserted that life has a way of throwing obstacles in a person's life that cannot be overcome. Palous took the more idealistic position that a person can overcome any obstacle by hard work and staying focussed.

"There's some obstacles that can get in the way of getting what you want and sometimes you can't overcome them," she asserted. Palous pushed back with his position. It ended with both conceding that maybe they were arguing different points.

Palous said this year's top students are unlike some in past years in that they are both serious yet unassuming. Neither were really into sports all that much either.

"They're shy, but when you talk to them a lot they're funny," commented Palous. "They are unassuming. Especially (Maria), she downplays her abilities."

Maria enjoyed playing soccer and likes to read romance novels. Yubana holds down a job at Burrito King.

Maria said she'll remember the rallies, proms, powder puff games, and other high school traditions. But as she leaves CHS she felt impacted by psychology teacher Laurie Frazier, her favorite.

"I think she uses psychology to get us interested," said Maria.

Another favorite was Ben Middleton, an English teacher.

"I learned a lot in his class. He's a really hard grader. I think my writing skills have been improved because of him."

She also liked Nancy Oudegeest, an art teacher.

Pulido's favorite teacher was Rita Srouji, a CHS science teacher.

"I had her my freshman year for Earth science. I was always the quiet one, always doing my work and she'd always be there helping me out if I had a question. This year I have her for A-P Biology. The class was so small - only 10 people - and we got to know each other more as a teacher-student. We were like a little family. We did a lot of field trips. She really helped me and I think I learned a lot in her class."

Yubana enjoyed math competitions as a Ceres High School freshman.

Both girls involved in California Scholarship Federation (CSF), and the National Honor Society (NHS) and HHS, a Spanish society on campus.

They both have good memories of taking first place in a physics creation of a balloon-powered car made out of used CDs.

Maria noted how her perspective about high school might change over time. They already have. She remembers being incensed that younger classmen on the soccer team had to double up on bus seats to and from out of town games while the seniors got a whole seat to themselves.