By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Graduates Bid EHS Goodbye
As they stood, nervously fidgeting with tassels, fixing hair and straightening ties, emotions ran the gamut for the Class of 2009 at Escalon High.

"I'm sad, yet excited," one graduate offered, followed by a chorus of answers from friends surrounding her.

"Happy," "ecstatic," "elated," and "sad again" were tossed about as easily as the graduates would later send their caps flying into the night air following the ceremony.

More than 230 students had arrived at their final Escalon High School destination, Engel Field at Memorial Stadium, for graduation ceremonies. A capacity crowd lined three sides of the stadium and spilled into the scoreboard side end zone on Friday night, May 29, with the graduates marching in under the flowered arches and down the aisle with teachers lined up on either side.

Senior Class President Eva Chavez Cisneros offered the welcome, pointing to some of the more significant accomplishments of the graduating class, from raising the API score to organizing blood drives and canned food drives.

"We're proud to be the first Escalon High School graduating class under the California Distinguished School recognition," Cisneros said to the excited cheers of her classmates. "We have learned how to conquer our fears, we have overcome any barriers in our way.

"It's time to close this chapter of our lives and start a new one."

Graduate Annie Mulry then offered a stirring rendition of the National Anthem and Escalon Unified School District President Janai Stanton presented the Classified Employee of the Year Award to janitorial services supervisor Raquel 'Kelly' Kellett. Recognition of the Certificated Employee of the Year - Dent Elementary teacher Nabby Casteel - came at Thursday night's El Portal Middle School graduation ceremony.

After recognition of the scholarship and award recipients, co-valedictorians Christina Wong and William Dunbar took their turn at the podium.

"Escalon High has left an indelible mark on us ... as we have on Escalon High," Wong said. "This is the place where we have grown ... in maturity and character.

"Four years ago we were just freshmen without a clue what we would do after high school. Today we are the best Escalon High School has to offer."

Pointing to the many TVL titles, FFA championships and other sports and scholastic achievements over the years, Wong said the class could also be proud of the new clubs it formed on campus, the new directions it helped forge for the school.

"These are just some of the footprints we leave behind in the halls of Escalon High," she said.

Wong added that it will be the "simple, everyday things" that she will miss about EHS but said her education here has given her a strong base and solid values. Cautioning her classmates about always looking for greener pastures elsewhere, she offered them some sound advice.

"Tend the grass wherever you go," she said.

Not to be outdone, Dunbar bounced to the podium and launched on an enthusiastic speech of his own, reminiscing about the various excuses he and his classmates may have used over the years - getting stuck by a train or taking a wrong turn in a cloud of dust due to field work and ending up in Riverbank - when they were late for school.

"Sometimes it feels like Escalon is in the middle of nowhere," he admitted. "One Taco Bell and 10,000 cows."

But the lessons learned at Escalon High, he said, will help them move on from here.

"We have earned the ticket for the next stage of our journey," Dunbar told his classmates. "Just don't get stuck in a roundabout."

Like Wong, he proudly pointed to the school's academic improvement, using the term "dismal" to describe the API scores when they entered as freshmen.

"Now Escalon High School is a California Distinguished School," he said. "We did not yield to pessimism. We played a role in that reversal."

Dunbar urged his classmates to take time to thank those that were attending the ceremony, from parents to teachers, administrators and friends, for helping them along the way.

"We will retain the values we learned from the people in this community," Dunbar said. "We are the ones who must determine what happens on our individual journeys.

"It's been a ride to remember ... and it's not over yet."

Escalon High School Principal Joel Johannsen stepped to the podium for his own remarks, noting that he and the graduates entered EHS together. He took over as principal the year the class members were freshmen.

"This class is special to me in the many contributions they have made to our school," he said.

Other accomplishments include having co-Valedictorians for the third time in his four years as principal, and having one graduate - Wong - recognized as a National Merit Scholar, on her way to Harvard.

"This is a distinguished class that led Escalon High, they helped change the culture of Escalon High School," Johannsen said, alluding to the 'Be the Change' movement that has helped break down many of the cultural and social barriers between students.

"Thank you, goodbye and good luck," Johannsen told the class, as they rose to give him a standing ovation, chanting "Jo Ho! Jo Ho!"

After the class was officially presented for graduation, diplomas were awarded by members of the school board, Mulry took center stage again to lead the Alma Mater and Cisneros led her classmates in the tassel ceremony. Then the mortarboards were sent skyward, streamers went flying and graduates were mobbed by excited family members and friends.

"I feel great," Hailey Homen gushed. "I'm so excited, so ready to move on. I'm going to miss it, though."

Homen is headed to Stanislaus State to pursue liberal studies.

"It's an exciting moment," Bill Cervantes agreed. "Something I've been waiting for since freshman year.

"I'm going to MJC and study business, maybe someday start my own business, plus I want to continue to play soccer."

New graduate Misty Hipsher is headed to Delta College, where she will study to be a police officer.

"I feel excited," she said. "It's almost too real to imagine right now."

Matt Brown was shocked the years went by so fast.

"It was just fun, really fun," he said as he posed for family photographs with an assortment of aunts, uncles and cousins along with his mom, dad and sister.

"It was so exciting," Katy Zontek added of the ceremony itself, noting that it wasn't until she "walked under the arches" entering the stadium that she realized the enormity of the moment.

A beaming Shawn Focht was taking it all in, surveying his fellow graduates with a smile.

"Amazing," he said. "That's the one word I can think of. Everybody waits for graduation. I love the town, love the atmosphere ... it'll be hard to leave."