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Adult School graduates tell stories of resilience
With her 14-month-old son Juan, in her left arm, and 3-year-old son Omar shaking hands with school district officials behind her, Ana Martinez beams as she walks toward receiving her high school diploma during the Manteca Adult School graduation ceremonies on Friday at the district office. Martinez was pregnant with the youngest of her four children when she started classes at the Adult School. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

There was no band playing the grandiose strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

The students did not wear caps and gowns.

The venue was a small conference room with white linen-covered tables and potted floral plants as centerpieces.

The traditional tossing of the caps at the conclusion of the ceremony was not part of the program. In its place was two long tables’ worth of hors d’oeuvres catered by the be.Tech Culinary Arts students which were served during the brunch reception.

Welcome to the Manteca Adult School’s Class of 2014 Commencement and Celebration. What this graduation ceremony was missing in terms of tradition was replaced by soul-stirring stories of the human spirit overcoming all odds. There were plenty of those. All of the students who received their diplomas and certificates of completion had a tremendously touching story behind each framed piece of paper.

There was Vincent Espinoza who gave an extemporaneous stirring graduation speech. His teacher  Pam Lawder said Espinoza came to Manteca Adult School “not in the best of circumstances” but eventually turned into a “model student.”

“I messed up so much,” said Espinoza who confessed to being in and out of jail before he met an “old man in jail” who offered him some advice. “You are smart; you’re young. Don’t come back here.”

“I took his advice,” he said. At the Manteca Adult School, Espinoza found an appreciation for art and algebra.”I was never good with math. I came here and my teacher Pam (Lawder) helped me, and now I love math. I understand it now.”

He is now planning to go to college.

Then there was Ana Martinez who was described as “one of the most hardworking” students at the school. Teacher Bob Casazza recalled the first time he met Martinez. She was almost due with her fourth child, he noted. He remembered asking her, “When in the world do you find time to study?”

Her teachers soon found out how she was able to complete 54 credits since August of 2012, with 25 of those credits completed this semester, “all the while raising four children under the age of six”. The computers show when the students log on to do their school work online, Casazza said. They found out that after putting her four kids to bed, Martinez would turn to her studies, many times until 2 o’clock, three o’clock, even four o’clock in the morning.

When Martinez walked up to the podium to shake hands with school district administrators and receive her diploma, clutched in her left hand and riding on her hip was her youngest child while son Omar walked closely behind her and, with a serious mien, shook hands with the school officials as well.

Another graduating student, Debbi Celaya, started at Manteca Adult School in 2000 and completed 200 credits through that span of time while working at the same time. Her hard work and determination makes her the kind of students “that teachers dream about,” Casazza said.

Guest speaker Larry Machado’s message to the graduates embodied the students’ stories of human endeavor. “It’s not how you start – it’s how you finish,” was the theme of his message.

Of the Manteca Adult School’s graduating class of 2014, 13 received their diplomas and two received certificates of completion. Receiving diplomas were Ranessa Alleyne, Ana Martinez, Robert Ballesteros, Isaac Martinez, Jaime Burciaga, Armando Castrejon, Gina Rosado, Debbye Celaya, Darren Stevens, Ismael Cerda, Vincent Espinoza, Maria Yanez, and Dylan Higging. Those who received their certificates of completion were Brandy Watson and Nofal Mohsin.

Present to congratulate the graduating students were Board of Trustees Don Scholl (president), Trustee Evelyn Moore, Manteca Unified Deputy Superintendent Burke Clark, and Senior Director of Secondary School Clara Schmiedt. The graduation ceremony was held in the board room of the Manteca Unified administrative office on West Louise Avenue.