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Surprise teacher motorcade honors valedictorian
Lath val
Lathrop High senior Joshua Vargas was named valedictorian for the Class of 2020.

Joshua Vargas was planning to do an afternoon run on Monday.

Nothing too strenuous, he said, but a nice, leisurely three- to four- mile workout.

His family, knowing that there was a surprise in place orchestrated by the Lathrop High administrators, told the youngest of three, "not today," said Nigele Vargas, Joshua's father.

Last week, LHS Principal Greg Leland mentioned to his staff about plans to honor this year's valedictorian and salutatorian with a surprise visit to their homes. "It was going to be just administrators but then some of the teachers and staff asked if it was OK to join us," he said.

Leland opened up the invite with a friendly reminder to those joining in on the home visits to salutatorian Evelyn Moua and valedictorian Vargas to stay put in their vehicles and practice social distancing during these COVID-19 home quarantine times.

"We had 20 plus cars in the parking lot ready to go," he said. "This became a community event."

Joshua Vargas was totally caught off guard as he heard the chorus of honking car horns in his honor along with the painted "Lathrop Valedictorian" banner taped across his garage and his graduation photo on a yard signage board.

"I am so confused right now," Vargas said while absorbing the moment held just for him.

Traditionally, the top academic honors are announced during a school-wide assembly -- LHS has "Respect the SHIELD" -- but these times of distance learning and stay at home orders changed that.

 On the plus side.

"Instead of a 10 second announcement, we had more time to share this special moment with their family," said Leland. "This was one of the greatest moments for me as a high school principal."

For Vargas, he earned the top academic honor with his weighted grade point average of 4.33.

He's UCLA-bound, choosing to be a Bruin over that of San Jose State, UC Berkeley, and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. The son of Nigele and Cherryl Vargas, he's looking to major in Applied Mathematics with the possibility of going into teaching.

Joshua Vargas was born in Tracy but moved to Lathrop at a very young age -- he attended Joseph Widmer Jr. Elementary School from the first grade on up.

Along the way, he noticed personal growth and maturity. 

"The biggest change was that I wasn't athletic (in elementary school) but when it came to running, I just jumped into it," Vargas said, remembering his early days at LHS.

He added: "High school allowed me to open up and grow."

Vargas ran track all four years, competing in the 800 and two-mile events. "We had two meets this year before the (school) shutdown," he said.

Vargas also ran cross country for the Spartans.

In his first two years, he was in band and he was involved in Academic Decathlon while being active in numerous clubs -- Vargas was vice president in the French Club and took part in the Go Green Club.

He's looking forward to putting together his valedictorian speech for the Class of 2020 consisting of some 270 seniors regardless of what's ahead for the coming the months.

"With home quarantine, I've had plenty of time to think and reflect," Vargas said.