They were the smallest graduating group in the 2011 commencement season in Manteca. And they will go down in history as the last class to graduate in the 25-year history of Manteca Christian School which is closing as of the end of school year 2010-2011 due to dwindling enrollment.
Zachary Mathew has taken his place in the school’s hallowed history as the valedictorian who led his graduating Class of 2011. He and classmates Daniel White, Hayley Unites and Cassandra Oliveira received their diplomas during an emotional but otherwise upbeat commencement ceremony suffused with scripture readings on Tuesday, May 24. And though you could count the number of graduates with the fingers of just one hand, plenty of the seats inside the spacious Place of Refuge (formerly First Assembly of God Church) on Button Avenue where the commencement exercises took place were occupied by proud and beaming family members and friends.
Joining the four graduates on the stage were Manteca Christian junior high teacher Patrice Cotten who served as the master of ceremonies, Principal Annette Garrett, and church pastor Mike Dillman.
Each of the graduates played a role in the graduation program. Daniel, who will be attending Central Catholic High School in Modesto, led the pledges. Cassandra, who will be attending East Union School, read the class poem. Hayley, who will be a freshman at Manteca High in the fall, read the scripture passage from Isaiah 40: 30-31 which served as the spiritual compass for the graduates:
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Zachary, the class valedictorian who will be a freshman at East Union High in the fall, delivered a four-page speech that was largely a litany of thanks to all who made a difference in his life. He started off by saying, “I would like to thank God for what He’s done in my life.
“Throughout my life, God has always been directing me when and where to go. He is my Heavenly Father, and I would personally like to express my gratitude for how he has worked in and through me. I’ve faced challenges in life when I thought that I wasn’t good enough or too scared to do something. However, every time I felt this way, God has reassured me that I am his child and that if I have faith in Him, I can do all things.”
He then thanked his parents who “have loved and cared for me like any good parent would,” as well as his teachers and school mates at Manteca Christian where he attended school for the last nine years, starting there as a kindergarten.
One highlight of the evening program was a slide show which documented in pictures each graduate’s years at Manteca Christian from the time they were in kindergarten. The only one whose pictures did not go back that far was Cassandra who joined the class this year.
In her message to the graduates, the principal noted that Zachary and Daniel “have grown four inches this year,” and that Cassandra and Hayley “now tower over me.”
On a more serious note, Garrett said, “We’re proud of our students.” And to the four graduates, she said, “It’s been a blessing and an honor to walk through these last years with you.”
Cotten, who, like Garrett, has taught at Manteca Christian for about as long as the school has been in existence, also had parting words for the four graduates.
“Look to the Lord for wisdom and courage, and go through the door that he opens..., and keep God first in your life.”
She also reminded them that “with God, all things are possible. Dare to dream God’s dream. Dare to believe in the God who says, ‘I am who I am.’ God’s plans are bigger than our plans. Dare to be a child of the Most High God. Dare to trust your life to a holy God.”
To the class valedictorian, Cotten said, “Zac, that was an amazing speech that you gave. It reflects a maturity beyond your years.”
Before giving the final benediction at the conclusion of the commencement program, Pastor Dillman noted, “We regret to say that this is the final graduating class” of Manteca Christian School.
With dwindling enrollment due in large part to the effects of the Great Recession and the continuing economic crisis on many struggling families, church leaders made a decision to end the quarter-century run of the school. However, the Manteca Christian building will not become an abandoned shell. It will reopen in August with more than 400 students as the Manteca Great Valley Academy, a charter school branch of the Modesto Great Valley Academy which will be leasing the facilities from the church.
After being turned down by first, the Manteca Unified School District in December, and by the San Joaquin County Office of Education a couple of months later, Great Valley was approved as a charter school by the New Jerusalem School District in Tracy in April.