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MHS grads focus on future while honoring past, tradition

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Manteca High graduates start to celebrate after receiving their diplomas at Guss Schmiedt Field on Friday.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED May 27, 2017 12:35 a.m.

Lejla Pepic has a lot to look forward to.
The Stanford-bound Manteca High School valedictorian took the lectern Friday night at Guss Schmiedt Field with all of the confidence of a young person filled with promise and brimming with the notion that her best days lay before her.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the scholar-athlete with the 4.5 grade point average will forget her roots anytime soon, or the people who helped her reach them.
And she hopes that none of her fellow classmates forget those things either.
In addition to telling the Manteca High Class of 2017 specifically “not to forget all of the things that this community has done for you,” Pepic was clear in the message that regardless of where each of its members were going – whether it be a world-renowned research university like Stanford or a technical trade school – that all of them have been equipped with the ability to reach for their respective goals and claim them as their own.
“We, the Class of 2017, are not bystanders or simple passerby – we are the future,” Pepic said to the capacity crowd. “And I’m confident that the future is in good hands.”
To contrast Pepic’s measured, scholarly speech to her fellow classmates, Salutatorian Si Hao Tang – who is headed to UCLA in the fall – gave a speech that was littered with references that only his fellow Manteca High students could truly understand or appreciate.
He even called some of them out by name.
But he also told a heartbreaking story – complete with a moment where he had to compose himself – where two Chinese nationals fled their home country because they had discovered they were going to have a second child, and the government simply would not have allowed that.
He told of the sacrifices that young couple, his parents, had to make to leave everything they had in life – jobs within the government, a nice furnished apartment, the sense of belonging and the comforts of a home –  to travel halfway across the world to a place that foreign in every sense of the word to work a cluster of part-time jobs in order to make ends meet.
And he urged his fellow graduates to remember those who may have made sacrifices in order to allow them to walk across the field and accept their diploma and recognize that it’s a source of pride not just for them individually, but those in their family as well.
But for all of the celebration and the revelry around the landmark achievement, there was also an air of sadness as well.
Located just off to the side of the front of graduates Friday night sat an empty chair – marked only with a graduation gown and a flower placed on the seat – in honor of Zachariah Gomez, who was killed as a freshman walking along the side of Yosemite Ave. in a tragic accident.
Senior Class President Andrew Brunn, in asking for a moment of silence for those who were unable to attend the graduation ceremony because of either illness or distance, mentioned Gomez by name in a touching tribute and testament about the loyalty of friendship and the community of Manteca High School.
And it wouldn’t be a Manteca High graduation without a reminder of the tradition that each of the graduates were going to be a part of.
Just before the formal certification of the class and the accepting of the class, Student Body President Nathalie Soto reminded all of the students – through an exercise of asking past graduates from different eras to stand up and remain standing – that while they may have walked off of the field for the last time Friday night, they were part of a larger community and a tradition that spans generations.
“Tonight.” Soto said, “we become a part of Manteca High School’s tradition of excellence.”
The entire graduating class held up two fingers and uttered a timeless phrase within the confines of the moment.
“Go Buffs.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.

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