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Graduation Week For Escalon
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Ready for their final appearance as Cougars, the top two in the Class of 2014 will lead fellow graduates to the stage on Friday night. Valedictorian this year is Maggie Casteel, left, with Salutatorian Anastassya Zack. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Times

A trio of graduation ceremonies will take place this week, starting with the Vista High School festivities scheduled for tonight, Wednesday, June 4.

The Vista High graduates, 18 in all, will receive diplomas during a ceremony in the Visual and Performing Arts Center on the Escalon High School campus, with the event scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

El Portal Middle School students will gather on the Escalon High School football field for their special night on Thursday, June 5 starting at 7 p.m. Student speaker will be Elliott Mello, and the estimated 227 eighth grade graduates will receive their diplomas and prepare to become Escalon High School freshmen.

For the Escalon High School graduating class of 2014, ceremonies will begin at 7 p.m. on the football field on Friday, June 6, with 192 students scheduled to make the journey into Memorial Stadium to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance. Gates will open at 6 p.m.

Senior Class President Taylor Busch will provide a commencement address for the 94th EHS commencement, as will Valedictorian Maggie Casteel. This year’s Salutatorian is Anastassya Zack.

Casteel, the daughter of Abby Casteel, plans to go to Cal Poly to study aerospace engineering. She enjoyed Humanities class the most during her time at EHS.

“We discussed things relevant to current events and their place in history,” she said. “There were some interesting discussions.”

Casteel had some AP classes this year, not letting up academically at all, and also served as the student representative on the Escalon Unified School District Board. She was involved in the Academic Decathlon while at EHS and was also active in cross country, basketball and tennis. Her cumulative GPA topped out over 4.25.

She pointed to athletics as being a key part of her high school years, and one of the most fun.

“You get to stay in shape, have fun and meet new people,” she said.

For Zack, the daughter of Dwain and Kristina Zack, her plans are to attend UC Santa Cruz to major in cultural anthropology. She said her goal was to finish high school in the top two, and she is pleased to have reached that. The senior, also with AP classes this year, has a cumulative GPA of more than 4.22 and said her time spent on the Academic Decathlon team was important.

“It provided me with interesting things to study, gave me confidence to speak in front of judges and gave me a lot more knowledge,” she said.

Zack added that she also enjoyed being involved in a number of clubs, which helped her stay active on campus and in the community.

As far as advice to underclassmen, she offered this thought: “Act according to how you would want to view yourself in the future.”

Earlier, students enjoyed their Senior Awards Night and the top honor of the evening, the Wendell Eliason Memorial Scholarship, was presented to Zach Withrow.

“I was extremely shocked,” Withrow said of the honor, which is awarded based on voting by staff, students and teachers. “I was very, very humbled and honored.”

Withrow played football for three years at Escalon High, was involved in the Journalism Club, Mock Trial and served as an Associated Student Body officer. He plans to attend University of the Pacific to pursue a degree in Communications/Public Relations.

“Ever since I was a freshman, I’ve been interested in the award and what it stood for,” Withrow admitted.

Wendell Eliason was a graduate of Escalon High School, a standout student and athlete, killed in Vietnam when his helicopter was shot down on March 31, 1965. He was 24 years old and was the first from this area to give his life in Vietnam.

Each year, one graduating senior is selected to receive the award named in his memory. The student must exhibit the qualities of citizenship, leadership, conduct and service that Eliason was known for during his life.

Serving as emcee for the Senior Awards Night was Taylor Busch, as senior class president, and other officers for the class include vice president Kendyl Cadell, secretary Makenzie Weible, treasurer Ben Hood and representative Carlos Coreno.

Senior class advisors are Ryan Young, Sue Gentry and Chris Oliveira.