Futures bright for grads

Alissa Fernandez, left, gets a kiss from her mother Margarita

Gilroy
– Standing tall in black caps and gowns – they could have been
any traditional graduating class Tuesday night. But the 61 seniors
at Mount Madonna Continuation High School have unlikely pasts and
open ended futures – and many, without the help from the school’s
staff, would not have received t
he little white certificate that signifies their success.

These are good students,

said Pete Garcia, Mt. Madonna’s Campus Supervisor.

I’m glad they made it through.

Gilroy – Standing tall in black caps and gowns – they could have been any traditional graduating class Tuesday night. But the 61 seniors at Mount Madonna Continuation High School have unlikely pasts and open ended futures – and many, without the help from the school’s staff, would not have received the little white certificate that signifies their success.

“These are good students,” said Pete Garcia, Mt. Madonna’s Campus Supervisor. “I’m glad they made it through.”

While Garcia is a disciplinarian on campus, he is also a grandfather figure. He stood facing the seniors as they got their class photo taken – a look of pride on his face.

The ceremony at Ascension Solorsano Middle School was a night of firsts and lasts.

Many students represent the first members of their families to receive a high school diploma. Others are the first to go on to a form of higher education. By Friday, there may be more than 70 graduates if all their credits are approved, making the class of 2005 the largest graduating class ever at Mt. Madonna.

But for principal John Perales, it was his last. Next year, he will serve as principal of South Valley Middle School.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I’m going to miss them.”

Perales would do almost anything for his students, including giving them the tie off his chest. He could not wear his favorite blue tie during the ceremony because he let a student borrow it for a job interview days before.

He makes it his mission to know each student. Before students graduate, Perales requires them to meet with him.

One student frequently in his office was Armando Munoz.

Described by one teacher as a “challenging and intense student,” Munoz had poor attendance and grades. After his father’s death in February, something changed in him, Perales said.

“I told him, ‘Do it for your dad,'” Perales said.

Munoz started staying late after school and doing extra credit work. And because of his turnaround, Perales asked Munoz to be one of the three student speakers at graduation.

Class president Rigoberto Munoz, vice–president Sabrina Chavarria and Armando Munoz delivered the speeches, which rang with sincerity.

“I got kicked out,” Chavarria said of her previous high school. “I thought there was no hope for me.”

Each student shared their story, and all had an ending resulting in a high school diploma.

“I thought about it and I didn’t want to be a high school dropout,” Armando Munoz said.

What made the difference for students at Mt. Madonna was evident in their thank yous to the various members of the teaching staff.

One student even thanked Sylvia Mendoza, the school’s attendance liaison for calling her house so often to get her to come to class.

Journalism teacher Marina Campos introduced several teenage mothers, handing them a single red rose as they received their diploma.

“This moment didn’t seem possible when they found out they were going to be parents,” she said.

Other teachers shared personal stories with the audience.

When teacher Richard Red asked senior Raul Martinez in his pre–graduation conference, “How did you get through Mt. Madonna?” Martinez replied: “I never stopped trying.”

There was so much cheering and noise from fog horns blown in celebration by the audience that one could barely hear Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent Edwin Diaz declare: “I now pronounce you graduates of the class of 2005.”

As students and their families drifted towards the parking lot, Perales shouted: “Come and see me!”

Armando Munoz shook his hand.

“Only if you act right,” he said.

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