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Neil Hafley students appreciate education
Neil Hafleys Stephen Espinosa flashes a smile just before marching into the courtyard for the start of Tuesdays graduation ceremony. - photo by James Burns

Jaelyn Stock had bounced around elementary schools in the Central Valley before she found a home at Neil Hafley.

Connor McKee, on the other hand, was essentially raised on the campus at the corner of Northgate Drive and Hoyt Lane.

Although both students took different paths to Tuesday’s graduation ceremonies, they share one common bond: An appreciation for the education they’ve received – and the helping hands along the way.

“Both are an example of the all-around Neil Hafley student,” praised Principal Steve Anderson.

Each was asked about their journey to cap and gown, and remarkably, each described an atmosphere of fellowship, camaraderie and support.

It helps that Neil Hafley’s graduation class is the smallest in Anderson’s 10 years as the school’s top administrator, but each says it extends beyond the Class of 2013.

“The teachers try to help you grow,” Stock said, “and it makes you just want to help all the other students.”

Anderson presented a class of 63 on Tuesday evening, and the graduates were confirmed by Senior Director of Student Services and Special Education Roger Goatcher and Rupinder Bhatti.

Student Body President Adamarie Cabral gave the welcoming speech and led the assembled audience in the Flag Salute.

Kealani Fatta Kot and Arashpreet Kaur (“Journey from Junior High to the Jungle of High School”), Phoebe Roberts (“We is Learning”), Kinsey Ackerman (“Moving On”) and Adriana Montes and Margarite Navarette (“On to a New Beginning”) also delivered student speeches.

McKee, donning a white bowtie and spiked hair, took the microphone last during Tuesday’s wind-swept celebration in the school courtyard, and he was tasked with the final send-off.

The 14-year-old graduated near the top of his class, and wore the symbolic gold chord awarded to students with a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher.

Oh, but it gets better.

McKee was also presented with a certificate of merit distinguishing him as a straight-A student over the last two years. He also has been a member of the school band since fifth grade and played basketball once.

His speech, entitled “The Next Step,” gave thanks to all those that guided and shaped his journey from kindergarten to eighth grade.

“It’s my goodbye,” McKee said, “a straight-forward thank you to everyone.”

McKee believes he will miss that most about Neil Hafley – the small-community feel on campus; the willingness to help one another. He fears some of that will be lost in high school.

“Every class, whether it was P.E. or band, you try to help everyone do what’s right and show them what the expectations are,” McKee said. “It shapes the generations coming through.”

Stock, 14, benefitted most from the support.

When she arrived at Neil Hafley in the sixth grade, she had already attended schools in Modesto and Manteca.

She says she was immediately welcomed by staff and students at Neil Hafley, easing the fears and anxiety of being “the new kid.”

Yet again.

“The students were welcoming when I came. No one put me down. They didn’t judge me,” said Stock, who also wore a gold chord. “They all wanted to be friends.”

In this case, say Stock and McKee, being smaller than most (in sheer numbers) has been a benefit to their eighth-grade class.

“You can go to anyone here,” surmised Stock, “and have a friend.”