It was a cozy family affair. Loved ones sat in chairs around white-covered round tables with live potted flower plants serving as centerpieces. Lined up against the walls in the back of the airy and spacious room were trays of brunch comestibles and a wide selection of drinks.
Welcome to the Manteca Adult School graduation ceremony sans the strains of Pomp and Circumstance from a live band or electronic music player. Still, all the pomp was there – in the smiles, in the rounds of applause, in the paparazzi-style photo safaris during the short but sweet ceremony held Friday morning in the board room of the Manteca Unified School District administration building on West Louise Avenue.
Twenty-one members of the 2013 Manteca Adult School class received their high school diplomas – one was a Certificate of Completion – from school officials that included Superintendent Jason Messer, Director of Secondary Education Clara Schmiedt, Trustees Evelyn Moore and Manuel Medeiros, and Adult School counselor Larry Machado who took over the duty of emcee for Adult School Principal Diane Medeiros.
Reprising the same role he played during last year’s graduation exercises was Administration of Justice instructor Joe Waller who delivered the inspirational keynote speech.
“I love this graduation,” commented Trustee Moore for all of the special reasons above, and more.
One thing that makes this commencement exercises stand out from the other graduation ceremonies is the special attention given to each of the graduates as they are called to come forward and receive the fruits of their hard work, sacrifice and efforts in paper form. Their names are not simply announced so that they can come up to receive their actual framed diplomas and then shake hands with the school dignitaries present. The instructors who call on their own graduating students all have something special and encouraging to say about each one of them as they are presented to the guests. Below are just a few samples of that.
• Sarah Turner had only three weeks to complete the high school requirements she needed because she was moving to Texas, explained Independent Study teacher Jack Gumm. By dint of hard work, determination, and perseverance, “she finished everything she needed to do,” he said of his former student. He also found out that Turner has come back to California to attend the Institute of Technology in Modesto where she will study Criminology and Emergency Response. Her goal is to get a job as an EMT.
• Kristina Dean has reached her goal by “sticking tenaciously with her studies” while taking care of her four children – two girls and two boys – ages 2, 4, 7, and 9 and working at Home Depot at the same time. She not only completed her high school diploma requirements; she also passed the required high school exit exam, her teacher said.
• Marcus Mathews came to Manteca Adult School in January of this year and managed to finish five courses. He is now on his way to engineering school. His teacher described him as “a great student.”
• The very pregnant Susana Verdugo, like Dean, finished all her required courses through her pregnancy and taking care of her family that included her two sons ages 9 and 7 and supportive husband, Johnny. Friday’s graduation ceremony was also a family reunion of sorts for Verdugo. Her mother, Rosa Pina, and brother, Andres Pina, drove down all the way from Los Angeles to be present at her graduation.
“I did it for my kids, to set an example for them,” Verdugo said of her determination to achieve her high school diploma. She plans to go to college and would like to be a nurse someday.
• Katherine Ruelos held not just one but two part-time jobs throughout the time she was finishing her studies at the Adult School. She has been working at Marshalls for five years and at Mrs. Fields at Weberstown Mall for two years, both in Stockton.
“It’s hard; I always wanted to quit. But this is something that I didn’t want to give up. Now, I want to further my education” and go to cosmetology school, she said.
She persevered in finishing her studies to obtain a high school diploma and “get a better job and not have two jobs” anymore, she said.
Working two jobs, though, proved to be a blessing in disguise for the 23-year-old. As it turned out, her co-workers who were also working students attending community college, proved to be her academic saviors especially in her geometry class.
“I’d bring my assignments to work and they helped me during our breaks,” said a smiling Ruelos.
Immediately after the presentation of diplomas, the graduates and their family members and friends as well as district staff enjoyed a buffet brunch prepared and served by the students of the Manteca Unified Vocational Academy’s Culinary Arts program.