Valley Voices

Just a high school diploma? Not when you overcome what many of these graduates faced

A high school senior in wheelchair graduates with twin sister and a little help from some friends

Medical personnel transport Victor Guerra to Save Mart Center in an ambulance to graduate with his twin sister and classmates.
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Medical personnel transport Victor Guerra to Save Mart Center in an ambulance to graduate with his twin sister and classmates.

12 kids in my family, plus undying love

I want to give a special thanks and appreciation to my parents, my family of about 100 and all the families who have been such a strong support system for us along the way. I would not be here making my speech if I did not have all of you supporting me since day one.

Growing up with seven brothers, four sisters and me being the fifth and youngest girl made a huge impact on me. It molded me into the ambitious person I am today. Seeing my parents struggle, but still raising us with morals and undying love, has created my work ethic and motivated me to work that much harder toward my future.

Although many of us never had much growing up, I always felt wealthy because we always had each other, had a roof over our heads, food on the table and clothes on our backs. Mom, dad, brothers and sisters, thank you for giving me this life and always supporting me no matter what. Family is forever.

Amy Moua, McLane High School

Families fight but we don’t forget

We live in a world that is blighted by discord and ideological tensions. There’s no panacea to this confusing state, but I believe that everyone can help by disseminating love and care throughout the world whenever possible.

I try to look at the world as a sanctuary for a complex family tree. We’re all connected in a web in which the fibers grow tenuous and break more and more every day. It’s our job to mend them and keep the web strong.

Life is ephemeral and everyone wants to have an indelible mark on the world. The greatest impact one can make is allowing themselves to add to the collective human experience – one of love, pain and family.

And that’s what we are at Central, a family. Families fight and argue and gossip and have their own fair share of issues, but they are never forgotten. There’s nothing that puts me above anyone here, and I’m so proud of everyone in this room.

It was an arduous struggle, but we made it here, and each and every one of you will go on to do amazing things.

Jacob Boren, Central High School

I know my proud father is watching

Throughout my school years, it amazed me how interested my father was in my school work. I’d be so happy to show him what I had accomplished because I’d see that smile of a proud father and that made me so happy. For the parents out there, just know that “I’m proud of you” makes a huge a difference.

Parents, today tell us you are proud of us. I wanted him to see me graduate and give a speech. He would have hugged me and said, “Estoy orgulloso de ti chaparra.” (I am proud of you, little girl.)

I know he is in heaven now, and I know he is watching. Even though that loud voice of his won’t be heard, I know he still cheering and I know he is proud of me.

Araceli Morales, McLane High School

The secret my children never knew...

My children never knew that I did not finish high school. They knew me as a successful owner of several businesses, including a restaurant. I was also a therapeutic foster care parent for 13 years. But even with all of my accomplishments, I still wanted to fill the void that was so pressing in my heart – to earn my diploma.

As my oldest was preparing for his own graduation, I finally confessed my shameful secret. It was then that I decided to return to school and continue my education.

Some dreams just happen. Some dreams you have to work hard to accomplish. It has taken me 30 years to fulfill mine.

Candy Madrid, Clovis Adult Education

When kids pick up bottles or drugs

After graduation, my plans are to attend Fresno City College and then Fresno State to become a substance abuse counselor for juveniles who are in and out of the system. I am choosing this career because growing up I saw firsthand what happens when kids pick up a bottle or drugs. It almost always ends in addiction or death.

As hard-headed as kids are these days, I believe there is a way to get through to them and stop the cycle. They can choose a career and a successful life.

I am an example of that.

Graduating has finally broken my cycle of not completing anything. Now, when I fill out an application, I will no longer have to leave the education part blank or list all the schools I didn’t finish. Now I can finally check the box “yes” because I did graduate in 2017 from Clovis Adult Education!

Mariah Lexus Johnson, Clovis Adult Education

‘I’m finally free from chains of dishonesty’

It’s been said that “life is about the journey, not the destination.” I would argue that for many of us here today, it’s that we reached our destination that is so important.

How many of you have experienced a flat tire, turned on the wrong road or ran out of gasoline? Despite the setbacks along the journey, when you finally arrived at your destination, you were just elated to be there. That is how I feel today.

I feel so connected to this class not just because we’re graduates of 2017, but because of the determination it took to enroll and the fear of the unknown we all encountered once we arrived. For as long as I can remember, if anyone asked me what year I graduated high school, I replied “1988.”

Job applications were the same. I even stated on a few applications that I had a bachelor’s of science degree. I actually wrote that I had a BS degree – this is a true story, yet something I’m not proud of.

Standing in front of you this morning is the most liberated I have ever felt in 30 years. I’m finally free from the chains of dishonesty and the chains of fear because I have a real diploma in hand.

John Eanni, Clovis Adult Education

Together, we find power and potential

Our parents and teachers once looked at each of us, helping us to identify our own purpose.

Just as we tried to learn our letters, at first it might not have been easy for us see the potential in our 5-year-old selves. Separate, the letters of the alphabet don’t mean much. But when grouped with other letters, the differences between them is what actually creates the beauty and meaning of a word. It is when you put all these different letters together when you begin to realize their potential.

This analogy perfectly parallels us. We are a Wolfpack. When separated, the differences between each one of us is obvious. But when we stand together, side by side, our individual differences are the source of the power and potential we contain as a pack. And this unity amongst differences is the symbol of our graduating class.

Alyson Stokes, Clovis East High school

Thanks for dealing with sassy meltdowns, math

As we find our new horizons, we should not forget what got us here today. Parents, teachers and all of you here tonight, thank you.

Thank you for dealing with our meltdowns, our fake illnesses to miss math tests, our drama, our sassy back talks, our broken hearts, our loud personalities and generally our overly confident teen-age selves. You are a large reason we are who we are today and what kind of adults we are about to embark on becoming.

Whether you were the loudest kid at the rally or the kid who sat in every anti-rally, Clovis High and its lasting spirit has changed us all and we will forever be shaped by the events of the past four years. We are Cougars. And once a Cougar, always a Cougar.

Rachel Granillo, Clovis High School

I was defiant but I found compassionate mentors

Although I was defiant, I found mentors in Mr. Fisher, Mr. Hayashi and Mrs. Valdivia. I soon began to realize that my teachers were my allies. You see, their love was unknown waters for me. They weren’t family, so I couldn’t comprehend why they had so much compassion for me and why they cared so much about whether I made it or not.

But, between the conversations that left me in tears and the tearing down of walls I had no idea that I had, they became a vital role in my support system.

They have helped motivate and encourage me through this metamorphic time in my life. Thank you for holding me accountable, being confidantes when I just needed someone to listen and lastly, never giving up on me.

Gabrielle Burgos, Gateway

My parents worked 14 hours a day, every day

I’ve always loved stories. Books, movies, television, music – all these things have been my refuge for as far back as I can remember.

My love of these things didn’t start at home because for as long as I can remember, my parents have worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week, every single day of the year. Since they came to America, they have worked tirelessly to provide for me and my family. Growing up, that meant they couldn’t always read me a bedtime story or take us to the movies.

They provided for us and they loved us, just like so many of your parents here today who provide for and love you. For that, we will always be grateful.

If my love of stories didn’t begin at home, where did it begin? I’ve always known where this love was fostered. It was planted the very first day I became a part of the Fowler Unified School District.

Gursimran Kaur, Fowler High School

10 months sober and victory over dyslexia

My constant moves have made it difficult to get all of my credits, to learn the standards and to make connections with my peers.

As an adolescent, I turned to drugs and they led me down a bad path. I made a lot of bad choices I regret because I used.

I’m proud to say I’m 10 months sober today.

During my sophomore year in another district, I was told I had dyslexia. My classmates bullied me because of my reading struggles.

I was determined to prove them wrong and show them what I already knew, that I was smart. That summer I conquered my reading struggles and read 17 books. When I returned to a new school in the fall, I was at grade level for reading. I had overcome my disability.

Soon we all will embark on our next adventures. I will be going to college and joining the Air Force ROTC.

I plan to continue mentoring young people and help them stay sober.

Class of 2017, we are proof that anyone can rise above a challenge and that we are more than our circumstances. We are kind, educated, powerful young people who can create change and make a better tomorrow.

Cynthia Castillo, Clovis Community Day

I’m a father and a graduate

The past four years of my life have been hectic. I have fallen behind in my work, become a father to a beautiful little girl, lost a few friends. But I have learned that in order to push myself to be better, I have had to overcome a few obstacles that have stood in my way of being successful.

I now understand that it’s never too late to do what I want to do. I’ve seen people be successful after they have failed.

I have been lucky enough to have teachers who have pushed me through the rough times to accomplish goals I have set for myself.

Graduating from high school is only one of the goals that I have accomplished today!

Andrew Cruz, Gateway

Ready? Action! You’re the director of your life now

But now, as we leave the stage, we are no longer actors and actresses playing roles in high school. We are all directors. And we get to choose just how we want our films to look. We get to choose how to direct our lives. These diplomas are not our finale, but simply our ground-breaking debut.

Do we choose to make our lives in black and white or in vivid color? What genre of film will we direct? An epic adventure, a grand romance? Who will we cast to be part of our lives? A-list actors and actresses? How will we choose to look through the camera? Focused and narrow? Or will we choose to look at the world through a wide-angle lens?

We have the power to be as open-minded as we want to be. We have the power to control so much in the coming scenes of our lives.

Of course, we can’t control everything. Funding may fall through. A storm may hit the set and delay filming. The ending of your script doesn’t hold up to Hollywood scrutiny. It is in these times that we discover that our attitude determines everything. How we respond to life’s setbacks and tragedies will determine if we win an Academy Award or get a 15 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Jackie Krikorian, Therese Santiago and Vinisha Prajapati, Clovis North High School