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Escalon’s Class Of 2023 Completes Unique Journey
Joining in the alma mater for one final time, these Escalon High School graduates sang it proudly and swayed together during the Friday night ceremony, June 2, at Modesto Junior College. Marg Jackson/The Times

From the first notes of Pomp and Circumstance to the traditional tossing of the graduation caps skyward, Escalon High School’s graduation for the Class of 2023 was staged in front of a huge crowd on Friday evening June 2.

With work underway at Memorial Stadium/Engel Field on the EHS campus, the graduation ceremony was relocated to the east campus of Modesto Junior College. Each graduate had several tickets to hand out to family and friends, making for a packed house at the MJC football stadium.

Skies were sunny but there was also a cooling breeze, with picture perfect conditions for the ceremony.

School administrators and high school teachers led the way in to the stadium, followed by members of the graduating class. Cheers, applause, and the occasional air horn blast signaled the arrival of favorite grads, many finding their families in the stands to return a wave and a smile.

The high school band was on hand to provide the processional music and EHS Principal Jason Furtado delivered the welcome. Several seniors, members of the choir, then stepped up on stage to perform the National Anthem.

Senior class president Aldo Yepiz offered some remarks as well.

“We all gather here today to celebrate the ending of an academic era but also to celebrate the beginning of this new chapter in our lives,” Yepiz said. “Throughout this journey here we have shared many positive experiences and difficult obstacles … from not being able to go to Great America in eighth grade to then having to deal with the pandemic outbreak our first year in high school, and to now, not being able to graduate on our own field, we can say that the Class of 2023 didn’t always have it the easiest but we have learned how to face adversity and most importantly, know how to adapt to unprecedented changes.”

The program also included recognition for Russell Bright of the Maintenance/Operations/Transportation Department, presented with an Escalon Unified School District Employee of the Year award. Escalon High School Assistant Principal Daniel Taylor highlighted the scholarships and student recognition, and Valedictorian Kenya Sanchez also had a turn at the microphone.

She was introduced by Principal Furtado, who attempted to find her speech in the binder at the podium, but was unable to locate it. Luckily, Sanchez had a copy of it on her phone and retrieved the phone from her seat, making her way back to the stage.

“I’d like to thank Kenya for bringing a back-up copy of her speech,” Furtado said, apologizing for the binder incident. “That’s why she’s the valedictorian.”

Sanchez first noted the importance of adult guidance in the lives of the graduates.

“I would like to thank those who have helped us get to where we stand today,” she said. “Though there may be a variety of people who have helped and influenced us, I think it’s safe to say that our parents and teachers form a large part of our support system. So, thank you parents and thank you, teachers, for everything you have done for us.”

She praised the teaching staff at the high school for making their journey “as engaging as possible” and said the class itself proved its resiliency.

“We have gone through so much but the important thing is that we went through it together and we survived,” Sanchez said. “The day we’ve dreamed of is finally here and I can vividly remember being nervous for our eighth-grade promotion and the start of our high school career.”

That being said, she noted that the first full ‘normal’ year for high school was their senior year, and “just like that it’s over.”

But she praised her classmates for embracing change, persevering, and completing all their thousands of assignments through the years.

“And on this day, all that hard work finally pays off,” she said. “A new chapter awaits for each and every one of us … your story is yours to write, so don’t let anyone take hold of your pen.”

Students joined in to sing their alma mater one final time, with the class then presented with their diplomas, certifying them as high school graduates, sending the caps high into the night air.

Kasandra Moreno, looking at a career in law or criminology, was excited to reach the conclusion of what turned out to be an emotional ceremony.

“Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to get sentimental but I really did, it really hit me toward the end when I saw all my friends crying,” Moreno admitted. “Definitely a beautiful moment that I’ll forever remember.”

With a plan to enter the Air Force, Nikolai Lorenzo was basking in the moment on Friday night, surrounded by family and friends.

“I’d rather have had it on the home football field, our home turf, but it was nice having more family along,” he said.

Also enjoying well wishes after receiving her diploma was Giovanna Padilla, who plans to go into nursing.

“It feels amazing to have accomplished this after 13 years, I’ve worked so hard for it,” she said. “It felt very beautiful seeing each and every one of my family members, all these people feeling proud.”

New high school graduate Cameron Ruiz, who anticipates pursuing a career in law enforcement, also had good things to say about the ceremony.

“I thought it was great how the energy was here and it really reflected on the Class of 2023 and how amazing it was,” Ruiz said.