Tigers graduating class tops 500

Photos by Corey Evan/The Valley Chronicle

San Jacinto High School graduates watch their classmates on the big screen while waiting their turn on stage. Some 502 graduates participated in commencement exercises this month, a senior class that was among the most diverse in history. More than $4.4 million in scholarships were awarded to the school’s graduates. Banners honoring the top 40 students will be hung over downtown San Jacinto this summer.

SJ High School grads complete four great years

SJHS hosts biggest ever graduating class with over 500 at commencement

■ By Corey Evan / Reporter

For four years, they’ve embraced the highs and lows of high school together. For four years, to the chagrin of Bulldog Country, they’ve held onto the victory bell. For four years, they’ve worked towards and thought about this moment. On June 7, the moment arrived… the moment the San Jacinto High School Class of 2018 graduates had dreamed of.
These 502 Tiger graduates arrived to find a sold-out crowd, which overflowed to the school gym. The size of that crowd was no surprise, seeing as this was San Jacinto’s largest graduating class to date. Good thing the school rented a jumbo LED screen for the occasion!
Principal Luke Smith said this is one of the most diverse classes he’s ever had the pleasure of working with: “This graduating class is amazing; just the variety of backgrounds, of clubs, of interests, of sports, of where they’re going… they’re a very diverse group of kids!”
A tradition since 2016, San Jacinto Unified selects one of its kindergarten classes to represent the anticipated future graduates of SJHS and to usher in the current graduates. This year’s featured kindergarteners came from Megan Cope Elementary, giving these budding Seahawks the chance to spread their wings before a live audience. They’re both a sight for sore eyes and a great opening act!
New at SJHS this year – the valedictorian, salutatorian (co-salutatorians in 2018), and class historian wear white caps and gowns. Meanwhile, the top 40 graduates sport tiger orange caps and gowns. For all others, the traditional black still looked great on them.
Graduates and their parties were welcomed by ASB President Brianna Íñiguez: “Life is a journey; throughout this journey, we’ve met people along the way that have impacted our lives, experienced challenges and obstacles that have tested our true characters and reached great milestones as a reward to our hard work and success. We stand here four years later, stronger and wiser.”
The evening’s keynote speaker was SJHS English Teacher Bethany Gibson: “Some of you have been planning this moment for years, and you’re already staring at that horizon looking on to the next challenge. You mastered the obstacle course that was high school and took a flying leap over the finish line into success. Others of you have been dragging your broken and defeated bodies, struggling with the weight of expectations every step of the way… Regardless of your journey, you are here! You are done, and you should be proud and victorious!”
After Gibson’s enthusiastic speech, which she concluded by taking a selfie with the graduates, the senior choir sang their rendition of “Dream on” by Aerosmith as a means of reminding classmates to… dream on. And make those dreams come true, of course.

Teacher Bethany Gibson takes a selfie with the graduates.

Representing the new Top 40 section of the graduating class was fellow Susan Lopez Martinez: “We went to the same high school, walked the same halls and maybe took some of the same classes… We’ve survived the drama, the standardized testing, the rigorous math retakes. Let’s be proud of our triumphs!”
Before accepting the graduating class, Superintendent Diane Perez took a moment to recognize individual classmates for their accomplishments, as well as their group triumph. “We still have the highest graduation rate in our valley, and wait there’s more… we have the second lowest dropout rate in Riverside County!”
Perez also pointed out that over $4.4 million in scholarships were awarded to graduates, and that over the summer there would be banners hanging over downtown San Jacinto honoring the top 40 graduates. She also cites US News and World Report, who awarded SJHS a bronze medal for its college readiness results.
This year, instead of having the grads in white speak over the pulpit, their pre-recorded statements were played over the jumbotron: Valedictorian Carolina Villegas is headed to UC Berkeley to study educational policy in the fall: “I would like to give a huge thank you to my family and friends, especially my mom and my sister. And to programs such as the Inland Empire Future Leaders Program and the Chicano-Latino Leadership Project for making me the person I am today.”

The graduating class of 2018 waits in anticipation.

Co-salutatorian Guadalupe Botello Urincho is going to UC Irvine to major in Public Health: “I want to give personal thanks to first of all the big man upstairs, who has given me the strength and resilience to finish these past four years. And my parents, mom, pops, love you!”
Co-salutatorian Sierra Golding wants to be a nurse, and will start this fall at MSJC. “Tonight I would like to thank my family here in the stands; my aunt, my uncle, and my cousins for continuing to support me. I would also like to thank my boyfriend for constantly pushing me to be the best that I can be. And my teachers: Mr. Jackson and Ms. Solace. Last, but definitely not least, I’d love to thank my parents and my little brother for being my backbone and constantly supporting my every move.”
Historian Sonia Chinedu will study biological sciences at UC Irvine and parlay that knowledge into pediatric surgery: “I want to give a big thank you to God for helping me to become who I am today. And to my family for always supporting me, and for being there for me every time that I needed them.”
Author’s Note: These were the first of 502 to receive their diplomas. But as these graduates disperse into the world, may the illumination of the ’S’ on the North Mountain burn into their minds to remind them where they come from and what they stand for. Congratulations to all from The Valley Chronicle. This commencement ceremony was dedicated to the memory of SJHS classmates Damien Phacon and Larry James McKinney. May they rest in peace.



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