Clarissa Lara gives the historian address during Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy’s Class of 2021 graduation ceremony May 27 at Christopher High School. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

For the first time in a year, seniors at Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy were in the same place at the same time.

May 27 also marked the first in-person graduation ceremony within the Gilroy Unified School District in two years, after 2020 ceremonies were shifted to a virtual format during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Seated in a socially distanced manner, the 73 graduates celebrated the end of their high school careers in front of small groups of family and friends spread out across the Christopher High School football field.

“I am happy we are able to honor you with an in-person celebration,” Principal Sonia Flores told the graduates.

According to Flores, 88 percent of the seniors are petitioning to graduate from Gavilan College with at least one associate’s degree.

The students plan to move on to UC Berkeley, San Jose State University, Columbia University, Cornell University, UC Santa Cruz and many other colleges.

Gilroy Early College Academy Principal Sonia Flores addresses the graduates. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Graduate Ephraim Aung will be joining the Marine Corps ROTC while in college, boosted by a $180,000 NROTC scholarship he was awarded, and one student will enlist in the Air Force. 

Valedictorian Claire Huang was named a 2021 National Merit Scholarship winner, joining a select few from across the nation to receive the honor.

About 1.6 million high school juniors in the United States entered the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2019 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. From the pool of students who entered the program, only about one percent were named semifinalists.

In order to advance in the competition, and be considered for a Merit Scholarship award, Huang, who graduated with a 4.73 grade point average, became a finalist by fulfilling several requirements that included submitting a scholarship application and presenting a record of high academic performance.

Winners of the 7,500 National Merit Scholarships were chosen from a group of 15,000 distinguished finalists.

In addition to the designation, Huang also qualified for a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship to help with school expenses.

Five other GUSD seniors received National Merit Scholar designation:

• Daniel Tran, GECA, National Merit Scholar finalist

• Kasandra Maita, GECA, National Merit Scholar semi-finalist

• Ryan Cottone, Christopher High School, National Merit Scholar commended scholar

• Jasmine Antrim, GECA, National Merit Scholar commended scholar

• Jack Fan, GECA, National Merit Scholar commended scholar

Flores said the class of 2021 marked 10 years since GECA’s first graduating class.

“It’s an important milestone to celebrate,” she said. “A decade of graduates benefiting from the partnership between Gavilan College and Gilroy Unified, with alumni fulfilling the mission of our school to be someone, go somewhere, seek excellence.”

GECA graduates and their families stay apart from each other while wearing masks. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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