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Panther Promotion Closes Out Middle School Journey
Following their promotion ceremony on Thursday, June 1 these El Portal graduates took time for a selfie. Shown, from left, Ashley Flores, Carimen Garcia, Daniella Alvarado and Nevaeh Grisham. Classmate Noah Martin had already snapped a selfie, on stage with the assistant principal, when called for his diploma. Times Photos By Marg Jackson

With the grandstands packed and excitement in the air, the Panthers of El Portal Middle School entered the football stadium at Modesto Junior College as eighth graders and left as graduates, ready to move on to high school.

The ceremony on Thursday evening, June 1 was hosted at MJC as a result of Escalon’s Memorial Stadium/Engel Field currently undergoing renovations. Students were able to have more family members attend due to the bigger venue and it was a large and vocal crowd that cheered on the eighth grade students.

The processional was prerecorded by the El Portal Band, played as the students entered the stadium to take their seats. Student Body President, eighth grader K’oz Castro gave the welcome and led the flag salute. Principal Mike Gaston announced the winners of the Teacher Recognition award while teacher Gino Franceschetti then highlighted the Panther Physical Fitness honorees. Assistant Principal Kayla Jefferson announced the Exemplary Citizenship awards and teacher Steve Largent presented the Exceptional Growth award.

Announcing those students achieving ELD reclassification were teachers Danielle Berchtold and Staci Diaz.

Student speaker for the ceremony was Aniston Hunt, who described her middle school years as a ‘road trip’ – even bringing out some traffic signs to illustrate her points.

“Today is a remarkable moment for each and every one of us, that we will surely never forget. Thank you to everyone for being here and a special thanks to all the moms, dads and grandparents,” Hunt said. “We would not be here without you. No, seriously, since none of us can drive we literally couldn’t get here.”

She said when considering what to talk about in her speech, she thought of the many trips she has taken with her family.

“I have come to realize that our middle school experience is very much like a road trip that had all of its own twists and turns,” she noted.

In sixth grade, she said they were met almost immediately with a ‘detour’ sign, as they had to start their middle school years in living rooms or at kitchen tables, distance learning. They were able to return partway through the year; seventh grade was spent on campus with ‘merge’ the word as they learned to become a teenager, no longer a child.

In their last year, they got the “green light to take the lead at El Portal,” Hunt explained.

“There was a sense of optimism in the air because we were finally the top dogs,” she said, adding that they had a very successful class, athletically, academically and artistically, hitting on all cylinders.

“Without a doubt, this has been one crazy ride,” Hunt summarized.

Principal Mike Gaston then announced the Academic Excellence honorees and board member Sal Reyes presented the Certificated Employee of the Year honor to longtime district psychologist Kelly Kesterson Arrighi.

Principal Gaston then addressed the graduates, with the board of trustees awarding the diplomas. After Gaston officially presented the class as graduates, they were able to gather on the field with family, friends and well-wishers to close out the evening.

El Portal Middle School Principal Mike Gaston offers a few words of encouragement and inspiration for students, as they prepare to move on to high school. - photo by MARG JACKSON
Students listened to a number of speakers during the Thursday night, June 1 promotion ceremony for El Portal, hosted in the Modesto Junior College football stadium. - photo by MARG JACKSON
Utilizing some visual aids in her address, student speaker Aniston Hunt compared the middle school journey to a road trip.
Entering the football stadium at Modesto Junior College, eighth grade students from El Portal were greeted by a large crowd for the Thursday night ceremony, June 1. - photo by MARG JACKSON
Offering the welcoming remarks and leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance was El Portal student body president and eighth grade graduate K’oz Castro. - photo by MARG JACKSON