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Graduates Earn Diplomas, Celebrate Achievements
Class Of 2017
Escalon High Class of 2017 graduate Taylor Cockrell is all smiles as she accepts her diploma and a handshake from school board member Nick Caton during Friday nights commencement ceremonies at Engel Field. Marg Jackson/The Times


More than 200 graduates made their way into Memorial Stadium at Engel Field on Friday night, entering as Cougars and leaving as high school graduates.

The Class of 2017 took a full 15 minutes to file in to the stadium, to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, before taking their seats and celebrating their accomplishment with family, friends, school administrators and staff.

Principal Eric Simoni welcomed the crowd and EHS Salutatorian Nahlia Yefet then stepped up to perform the National Anthem. Senior Class President Kayleigh Inman offered some thoughts, including pointing out some things unique to Escalon, such as being late for school because you get stuck by a train or behind a slow moving tractor along Highway 120. She also praised “the entire town” for coming out to football games and said it’s ironic that the “new” gym was built when her father was a sophomore in high school.

“And he’s old,” she quipped.

She also noted that “surviving” a Presidential election in Mr. Louro’s civics class “deserves a diploma in itself.”

School board member Richard Thompson presented the Certified Employee of the Year award to teacher Erin Headley.

“I am honored, humbled and a lot overwhelmed to be up here,” Headley admitted.

The English and French teacher joined the EHS staff in 1992.

“Teaching is collaborative rather than competitive,” she said, adding that she is grateful to her parents – both of whom are retired teachers – her husband and daughters, and to her students.

“It is impossible me for me to overstate how much I love being in the classroom,” Headley said.

High school assistant principal Stephanie Parker noted various scholarships and student recognition, with $126,000 in local scholarship presented during the Senior Awards Night on May 24 and a total of over $200,000 presented to EHS students when figuring in the national and state scholarships.

Valedictorian Christian Ochoa outlined his family history – including a stay in Mexico after his father lost his job – and his fears that they wouldn’t be able to return to the United States. Once the family came back, he said he was inspired to take advantage of every opportunity.

“Perseverance is the path to success,” Ochoa said. “You don’t value the things you have until you lose them.”

The senior standout thanked his teachers for their support and for challenging him to succeed and also said he was “eternally grateful” for the Escalon community that is so involved in the school district.

Principal Simoni, completing his first year at EHS, also shared some thoughts at the podium.

“Graduates, you have blessed me in so many ways,” he said. “I am impressed with your character, demeanor and integrity.”

After Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa certified the graduates, the diplomas were presented, the caps were tossed and the crowd made its way on to the field to celebrate with their students.

Looking forward to starting a career in medicine, Jenelle Anderson will head to Reno but was grateful to have family visiting from Minnesota there to share her graduation.

Mom Julie said it went by fast but that things will really settle in “when we drop her off in Reno.”

Casey Turner admitted he was going to miss high school, but is looking forward to heading off to Modesto Junior College to pursue a career as a firefighter.

“There’s so much more responsibility on us now,” he said.

Many of the graduates, after celebrating with their families, settled in for a night of fun at the Sober Grad party, with 145 seniors attending the festivities. There were casino games, an area to make a flip book, cornhole, badminton, Boxer Bingo, plenty of inflatables outside on the tennis courts, as well as laser tag and a mechanical bull, plus the popular climbing wall. The Henna tattoo booth had a steady stream of clients, with a DJ providing music for the festivities as well. A food court was set up in the cafeteria and there were multiple prizes for the attendees.

Winners of the grand prizes included Jevan Salyer, $500; Lesly Ochoa Salcido, laptop; and Edgar Samano, Apple watch.

Other prizes ranged from cash to a dorm refrigerator to a bicycle and a drone.

The evening wrapped up with a hypnotist show and organizers said while they had to rearrange this year, setting up in the Performing Arts Center and the cafeteria due to work being done in the new gym, they felt the event went off well.