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Manteca High seniors slay the dragon
A group of graduating Manteca High seniors gathers for a photo before making the long walk into the stadium. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

In Ender’s game, it’s all about slaying the dragon. 

And in the eyes of Manteca High School Co-Valedictorian Ryan Ender, the Class of 2015 – who commenced Friday night at Guss Schmiedt Field – is full of dragon slayers. 

That’s the euphemism that Ender – the first of the school’s top two academic performers to speak – used to describe the process of conquering the challenge of high school. And in his eyes, it doesn’t matter how it gets done as long as it gets done. 

“It’s a requisite for getting to where we are today. For some of us that means getting an ‘A’ – for others that’s scoring a touchdown. Or it’s as simple as making a new friend,” Ender said. “We’re dragon-slaying individuals, but a hero’s journey transcends the bounds of just high school. 

“We’re all the heroes of our own story. Sometimes learning who you are and what you want is the greatest gift of all.”

His academic equal had a completely different tone. 

When Mahir Pepic stepped to the lectern he took the time to thank the people that made sure that every morning he had everything that he needed to start the day successfully – the staff at Taco Bell. 

He referenced John Locke – the philosopher and not the character from Lost – and his belief that all human beings are born as blank slate in which they can draft their own future and their own beliefs and understanding. 

As long as one has the support of the people at Taco Bell, he reasoned, it’s not impossible to do anything. 

“It’s necessary to use our time in high school to draft a path towards development,” Pepic said. “And by then our slate should have enough marks and scribbles to put Mr. White’s whiteboard to shame.”

He also encouraged his fellow graduates, regardless of their choice of direction, to make sure that they take the time to balance it out – finding happiness to counter the stress and a little bit of selfishness to make all of the hard work worth it. 

It was Salutatorian Isabella Garcia Mendez that put the entire experience of being a high school student into perspective for the crowd when she teared up talking about her parents and the amazing things that they have overcome in their own lives to make sure that she had the opportunities that allowed her to be standing at that lectern. 

Her mother, who was once bullied because of her accent and broken English, went on to become an English teacher, and the airplanes that her father used to work on are now the same ones that he flies on all over the world for his job. 

“You have to be willing to take social risks to achieve personal triumph,” Garcia Mendez said. “I hope to see all of you succeed in whatever it is that you do.”