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Panthers Embrace Final Event Of Middle School Career
Making his way to the podium on Thursday night was student speaker Brenden Berchtold, who addressed his fellow eighth graders and the crowd, detailing how middle school was “like a box of chocolates.” Marg Jackson/The Times

In a roughly 40-minute ceremony, eighth grade students from El Portal Middle School made the transition from middle school to high school, taking part in their Promotion Ceremony on Thursday night, June 2.

The El Portal Band played the processional as the students filed in to Memorial Stadium, to shouts, waves and cheers from the audience, then students Natalie Ruiz and Angel Ramirez provided the welcome and led the flag salute.

Awards for students were then announced, including the Teacher Recognition, Panther Physical Fitness, Exemplary Citizenship and Exceptional Growth awards.

Student speaker Brenden Berchtold took the podium to offer the address, “Middle School is Like a Box of Chocolates” and mixed humor in throughout his speech.

“A sincere congratulations to the Class of 2026; we’re not there yet but our three years at El Portal have prepared us well for Escalon High School,” he said.

Berchtold added that everything was new for them at El Portal, a new campus, new teachers and new classes for sixth grade … and then COVID hit.

“If COVID were a chocolate … well, let’s not even go there,” he said.

The pandemic changed the course of their middle school years.

“School in our pajamas was fun at first,” Berchtold admitted.

But the longer they were away, the more they wanted to get back.

“Going back to school never tasted so sweet,” he said.

The speaker added that while their time at E Portal was memorable, he feels the best lies ahead.

“We have many opportunities to come,” Berchtold advised his classmates. “I’m excited to see what life has in store for each and every one of us.”

Special recognition during the ceremony went to retiring teacher Greg Largent, who was the recipient of his year’s Certificated Employee of the Year award. He also coached many years at Escalon High School and used his time at the podium to thank many mentors he had along the way, in addition to his family, for the support through the years.

Principal Mark Vos also asked longtime teacher Kristi Michaels to take the stage, congratulating Michaels and Largent on their combined 60-plus years in education. Both are retiring this year.

Vos then addressed the graduates, and gave retiring School District Superintendent Ron Costa a “thank you” for all he has done to guide the district and wished him well on his retirement.

Members of the school board presented the diplomas, and Vos in turn presented the graduates to the audience, encouraging family and friends to come down from the stands to join their students for photos on the field.

El Portal Principal Mark Vos, at the podium, highlights the careers of retirees Kristi Michaels and Greg Largent, both leaving El Portal. Largent also received the Certificated Employee of the Year award at the eighth grade promotion ceremony. Marg Jackson/The Times