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From Panthers To Cougars: El Portal Students Move On
Special El Portal Middle School Class of 2021 Panther masks were issued to students for their eighth grade promotion ceremony; each graduate also was allowed to have four people attend the ceremony, each receiving a mask as well. Marg Jackson/The Times

Eighth grade students at El Portal Middle School gathered for their promotion ceremony on Thursday, June 3. With a backdrop on stage that read: From Panthers to Cougars, the students were recognized for achievements in an evening ceremony hosted at Engel Field on the Escalon High School campus.

Following the processional and the traditional Pomp and Circumstance performed by the El Portal band, Student Body President Brittany Dugo welcomed the crowd and saluted her classmates.

“I am proud of everyone for pushing through this hard year,” Dugo said, prior to leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Principal Mark Vos then took the podium to present some awards and also noted many students in the crowd were waring Panther Pins, having been selected for Teacher Recognition. Medals were presented to students achieving Panther Physical Fitness status as well.

Teacher Fred Bunnell was called on to announce the Exemplary Citizenship honors, with 94 students in the graduating class receiving that designation. Assistant Principal Mike Gaston announced the Exceptional Growth honors, for those students showing significant social or academic growth.

Academic excellence honors went to students for achieving a 4.0 during eighth grade and a second group was singled out for maintaining that 4.0 GPA throughout their three years – sixth, seventh and eighth grades – at El Portal.

The Classified Employee of the Year award was announced, presented to Miguel Verduzco, with Vos then returning to the podium to offer his Principal’s Address to Graduates.

“This is an outstanding group,” Vos told the crowd.

He also thanked the school board and administration for the support and effort to get students back on campus – with Escalon schools returning last November, well ahead of other districts in San Joaquin County.

To the students, Vos said there are two strategies to use in life.

One is perseverance,” he said. “You’ve already persevered through one obstacle.”

That obstacle, he noted, was learning to navigate through the pandemic successfully.

The other strategy, he said, is excuses.

“As in stop using them,” Vos said. “Accountability will serve you well for the rest of your life.”

Vos congratulated the class for making it to their promotion day and said with perseverance and accountability – avoiding the use of excuses – they would have an opportunity to do well in high school and beyond.

Diplomas were then awarded to the graduates, presented by school board members Nick Caton, John Largent, Kate Powell and Richard Thompson, with the turning of the tassels then signifying the end of the ceremony. Audience members were encouraged to come and greet their graduates and take time for some family photos, with the latest group of Panthers-turned-Cougars ready to step back on campus in August as EHS freshmen.

Student Body President Brittany Dugo took to the podium to welcome family and friends to the eighth grade promotion ceremony on June 3. Marg Jackson/The Times