Over the course of three nights, graduates were front and center in the Escalon Unified School District.
The celebrations started with Vista High alternative ed graduates receiving their diplomas on Wednesday night, June 3 in the high school’s Performing Arts Center and enjoying a reception with family and friends. Thursday night, students from El Portal walked in to Engel Field as eighth graders and walked out as incoming freshmen, ready to start the next chapter of their educational lives.
Friday, the week wrapped up with the 95th commencement exercise for Escalon High School. Along with the celebration of completing high school, the school district also honored many retirees this year and, on Friday, were able to welcome home the brother of one graduate, Sarah White. Her brother Brandon O’Hanley has served overseas, returning recently from Afghanistan, and was able to surprise his sister and mom by attending the ceremonies.
As principal Dave Lattig announced those seniors who have committed to serve in the Armed Forces, he also welcomed O’Hanley, who walked in to Engel Field as the graduates and crowd rose in a standing ovation, presenting a bouquet to his excited sister. Mom Shari White also made her way from the stands to embrace her son in the middle of the football field.
The graduations throughout the week were a celebration of accomplishments, from those students at Vista High that overcame a variety of challenges to persevere and earn their high school diplomas, to the El Portal graduates who now will look forward to ‘starting over’ and being the youngest students on campus when they return to EHS in the fall.
Wednesday night, Vista High graduates were congratulated by high school assistant principal Stephanie Parker, who said she also had to overcome many obstacles, saying she was almost unable to walk with her class at graduation time. She went on to enlist in the Army and found that she did value education, realizing it was the best way to reach her goals in life.
“It’s not how you start your journey,” she told the Vista graduates. “It’s where you end up. Whatever it is, you can do it.”
El Portal highlighted several students for achievement over the years, including recognition for Presidential Fitness and academic excellence.
Student speaker Shania Franklin took the podium for the commencement address, noting that middle school was like chewing a piece of gum.
“Not the kind you want to spit out,” she clarified. “The kind you want to keep chewing.”
El Portal principal Mark Vos noted that there was plenty of “pride and love in the stadium” for the graduates and he told them to take advantage of the team of family and friends that are there to support them, now and in the future.
Escalon High School senior class president Collin McCrary told the crowd gathering on Friday night that the four years of high school were gone “in the blink of an eye” and that his best advice for classmates was to spend time with people they like and chase their passion.
“In Escalon, we aren’t 7,254 people … we are one,” McCrary said. “This town will forever live in all of us.”
Teacher of the Year Cassie Gregory also had a chance to step to the podium to receive her recognition, the Dent Elementary teacher declaring “I’m a professional 8-year-old and I like it that way.”
She thanked many that inspired her along the way and noted that Escalon is her alma mater.
“For 23 years teaching has been my calling,” she said. “I don’t know how to thank you all.”
EHS graduates received more than $200,300 in local, state and national scholarship money and many are planning to go on to higher education.
Valedictorian Colten Watson said Escalon is unique, in that everyone gets to be who they are.
“The athletes are the scholars, the cheerleaders are the band geeks,” Watson said. “No one here at Escalon High School puts anybody in a box. The world could take a lesson from Escalon.”
He also urged his classmates to “never give up” as they move on from here.
Principal Dave Lattig commended the students for their academics, athletics, community service and more, noting that they are “ready to move to the next level” in their lives and careers.
“Thank you for your dedication to your school, the love of your community,” he said.
Following the presentation of diplomas, the tossing of the caps and the posing for pictures, 167 of the 198 graduates celebrated with the Sober Grad night festivities, enjoying their final night as high school students together in a safe, sober environment.
Organizers said that was among the highest percentage of graduates ever attending and they had plenty to occupy them throughout the night, with the Sober Grad running from 11 p.m. Friday to 4 a.m. Saturday.
There were casino games, a rock climbing wall, laser tag, multiple inflatables on the tennis courts including an obstacle course and the hamster balls; food, music, badminton, ping pong, Boxer bingo, a photo booth and more.