By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
On Thursday evening Central Valley High School makes history as it graduates its first four-year class of seniors.

Leading the way in the class will be valedictorian Victoria Romo and five salutatorians: Alicia Valenzuela, Carissa Garcia, Xochitl Gonzalez, Alex Stavrianoudakis and Miguel Duarte. All six gained top honors by achieving grade point averages of at least 4.0 or higher. They are the cream of the crop of the Hawks' class of 2009.

Central Valley High School opened up four years ago with only freshmen and sophomores, drawing down the overpopulated campus at Ceres High School. Ceres High School had approximately 2,500 students before Central Valley High School opened. Last year was the first year the school produced seniors. At 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, the school graduates its first class of students who have attended all four years.

All but Stavrianoudakis are children of Mexican immigrants who saw the value of their children doing their best in school.

Romo earned a grade point average of 4.333 to become the class valedictorian. She plans to attend U.C. Berkeley as an undeclared major, but is considering the field of sociology.

Romo, who is number 4 of eight children, feels that she's had the most opportunity of all of her older sisters.

"They struggled kind of figuring out what they were doing and I was kind of like a blank book," said Victoria, 17, daughter of Hector and Lilia Romo. "I could do what I wanted and my parents said I could think about doing whatever I wanted... so that really helped me to go to school."

Alicia Valenzuela, 18, earned her 4.06 GPA to help her win admittance to the University of the Pacific in Stockton. The daughter of Maria and Domingo Valenzuela plans to double major in chemistry and art. Her career goal, for now, is to either become an artist or become an environmental sustainability expert for a corporation.

Valenzuela was one of a collection of CVHS art students whose art was the center of a controversial rejection at the Mistlen Gallery in Modesto. Some deemed her art gang affiliated - a notion that she disputes - because it had red colors in it. Passionate about art and how it can help a person sort out feeling and express emotion, Alicia found the experience an eye-opener. "That was interesting to see ... what censorship was, understanding a little bit more what is art, understanding what my art was, really knowing what I want to do with my art - not necessarily going against the social norms - but knowing how it expresses humanity."

Carissa Garcia, who earned a 4.09 GPA, is off to U.C. Davis to major in bio-medical sciences. She would like to be a radiologist at a hospital somewhere in California.

"My main thing is being a good role model for my nieces and nephews, because I didn't have anybody to follow after," said Garcia. "I had nobody who went on to college. I'm the first one."

Xochitl Gonzalez, daughter of Bernardo and Martha Gonzalez, is also off the U.C. Davis with a 4.19 GPA from high school. She wants to major in biological sciences, graduate and go to medical school. Xochitl eventually wants to become an obstetrician/gynecologist.

"Since I've been a little girl I've wanted to be a doctor," said Gonzalez. "Ob/gyn is something that I can care for not only the mom but the baby."

She feels that her nurturing nature comes from caring for numerous nieces and nephews.

Alex Stavrianoudakis, 18, son of Nick and Suzette Stavrianoudakis of Turlock, will be studying at U.C. Davis to major in biological sciences or sports medicine. He's good at studying, as evidenced by his 4.23 GPA.

Stavrianoudakis will speak at graduation about "how all the teachers prepared everyone and little experiences that happened to us."

Among those experiences was being encouraged by his parents to do their best. Alex is now wanting to be a role model for his freshman brother.

"We've both had straight As like since fourth grade and whenever we get progress reports and we have like an A or A minus, our parents would get on us."

Miguel Duarte, a 4.047 GPA student, is determined to become a lawyer or politician. The 18-year-old son of Miguel and Eva Duarte is headed off to U.C. Berkeley to major in political science or possibly double majoring in molecular and subbiology. He jokes for his classmates to remember 2028, the first year that he would be eligible to run for president of the United States. Just as quickly he waves his hand and shyly says, "Naw," but you never know.

"I still haven't decided if I should go to medical school or law school," said Miguel.

Duarte said he still has family in Mexico and they don't have an opportunity to receive a good education.

"My parents live paycheck to paycheck," said Duarte, "and so as a young person you have to take advantage of your education to someday get ahead. You see what it's like to not have an education."

He hopes to use his education to help others.

"It's like my parents. They've been here, working and working and this is my way of giving back, my going to college and doing well, also a social responsibility to help build up the Latino community."

Xochitl recalls that her parents announced their expectations of her student performance.

"They let me know ... I could chose to go to school and get a really good profession that will help me get a job in an office with air conditioning or go to McDonalds."

One of the obstacles that Xochitl overcame was coming to the United States in the fifth grade without knowing English. Through an English language class through the Salida School District she learned to master English.

"In some seventh and eighth grade I was no longer an English learner," said Xochitl. "I was considered an English speaking person."

Garcia is the first in her family to graduate into college.

Garcia said Central Valley is a great school and talked about how difficult it will be to leave.

"I really like this school. Everyone has been really supportive. Everything is how high school is supposed to be.

Garcia singled out AP English teacher Paul Rutishauser as a really great teacher, to which most of the grads agreed. "He knows how to teach," said Xochitl. "A lot of AP classes are always boring or they have a lot of homework and stuff. But he makes learning fun."

The class of 2009 at CVHS is a definitely college bound group. Approximately 90 percent of the class is off to either a two- or four-year college. The top grads noted that part of the reason is an engaged staff and a strong Advanced Placement (AP) class program.