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Trio Top Graduates For Escalon High
Top honors have been announced for the Class of 2011 at Escalon High School, with Kara McKee named Valedictorian and James Hill and Emily York sharing the Salutatorian honors.

The three will lead the senior class on Friday night, as they enter Memorial Stadium to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance for graduation night. The ceremony at Engel Field will begin at 7 p.m.

Valedictorian Kara McKee is the daughter of Anthony and Tracy McKee and she said though she didn't start high school with the idea of being the top academic student in her class in mind, she did want to do well.

"It was always a goal to achieve," she said of doing her best, but admitted that it "was a surprise" that she emerged as number one.

"You have to have good study habits and my parents always taught me to work hard," added McKee, who said she was able to balance school and extracurricular activities by managing her time wisely.

She played volleyball her freshman year and played soccer all four years for Escalon High, as well as playing competitive travel soccer. She also credited her faith with being a guiding principle throughout her years at EHS.

She said the best part of high school was meeting new people and enjoying what amounts to a "close knit family" on campus, especially with her athletic teammates. She pointed to teachers Mr. Collinsworth and Mrs. Sughrue as being inspirational to her through their support and encouragement.

Her advice to next year's freshmen just starting their high school experience?

"No matter what, keep working hard," McKee said. "You will have hard times ... but persevere."

McKee will attend Huntington University in Indiana, a private Christian college, to major in Nursing. She recently accepted a partial scholarship there, and will play soccer for the Huntington Foresters in the NAIA as well as pursue her degree.

Co-Salutatorian James Hill has made the most of his four years at Escalon, involved in sports, academics and making high school a well-rounded experience. He is the son of Jim and Debbie Hill.

"The main thing is keep up with your studies," he said of achieving success, admitting that it is sometimes difficult to balance sports practice, homework and a social life.

At school, Hill said physics is his favorite subject.

"It's pretty fun to me, I like looking at how stuff works," he explained.

Hill will focus on that curiosity, headed to UC Davis to major in Mechanical Engineering.

He played football and baseball all four years at Escalon High School and said his most memorable high school moment was winning the state football championship in December 2010 with his Cougar teammates.

"That state championship football game," he said, "it's hard to beat that."

Hill also said it was hard to pinpoint any specific teacher on campus that was most inspirational to him, noting that all "helped me get along" throughout the years.

He also had some very succinct advice for those students that will enter high school in the fall: "Listen to your mom."

The daughter of Perry and Kathy York, co-Salutatorian Emily York has focused on music in school and dance and athletics outside of school during her time at Escalon High.

Her favorite part of high school, she said, has been being in band all four years.

"We go to band reviews, we've done band festivals," she said, adding that music teacher Mr. Ryan has been the most inspirational teacher to her.

Outside of school, she has been involved with the 5-6-7-8 dance studio in Modesto for a number of years and performs with them. She also has played soccer, softball and basketball in recreational leagues over the years.

Her plans following graduation are to attend Stanislaus State, majoring in Kinesiology and Dance.

As for her advice to incoming freshmen, York said they should strive for a balance of work and play.

"Just have fun and try your hardest," she said.

Graduation ceremonies for Escalon High School will be at 7 p.m. Friday, May 27. Later in the evening, seniors will gather for the Sober Grad party in the high school gym, being transformed this week for the celebration. Tickets are still available for $35 in advance, and will be $40 at the door. Graduating seniors attending receive a variety of prizes and souvenirs along with food, drink, games, music and fun. The party gives seniors the chance to enjoy a safe, sober environment their final night of high school.

Eighth grade graduation for El Portal Middle School students will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 26 and there will be three student speakers for that event as well.

In order of appearance, those graduation speakers will be Darian Caton, 'When Life Gives You Lemons,' Abbie Duarte, 'Looking to the Future' and Trent DaDalt, 'Building a House.'

Engel Field will also be the setting for the El Portal graduation.

Tonight, Wednesday, May 25, the first of the ceremonies will take place, with students from Vista High celebrating their graduation in a 6:30 p.m. ceremony at the EHS Performing Arts Center.