Graduation ceremonies from preschool and kindergarten to high school and college will be taking place soon throughout the county of Merced. No matter what level of education you might be completing, it is a great accomplishment.
For college and university students, graduating might bring a proud feeling knowing you survived the long commitment of studying and working, or of relief knowing that you finally got through the schooling part of your life.
For some it might be a scary thought knowing that now you need to go out into the “real” world and tackle new and unpredictable challenges. But then that’s what life is all about: challenges, changes, new adventures and taking on the unknown.
We are proud of those individuals from the local communities in Merced County who have graduated and have been successful outside the county. At some point they’ll be asked where they are from and will mention Merced County. Their success will reflect well on the area.
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Not long ago we had a gentleman by the name of Jacob Duran, a fellow classmate and graduate from Le Grand High School, come visit his hometown of Planada for a fundraising benefit. He has become quite the celebrity and is widely known in his profession as “Stitch Duran” due to his work in professional boxing and mixed martial arts.
He is also an author and actor, having had some roles in the movie series of “Rocky” with Sylvester Stallone. He is extremely proud of the community he comes from and makes it well known to others.
Many successful individuals are graduates of our local schools and have remained in Merced County. One example is our recently appointed Hmong judge to the Merced County Superior Court, the Honorable Paul Lo.
Judge Lo is still active in the community of Merced and he has definitely placed Merced County on the map for being the first Hmong judge in the United States. His example of commitment and dedication is impressive considering where he came from and what he had to endure growing up. I admire his tenacity and patience.
Another example, is a young lady named Maria Vazquez, a health educator at Castle Family Health Centers in Atwater. She graduated from Merced High School and San Francisco State University with a master’s degree in public health.
Maria has a sister, Gabriella, who is also a university graduate with a master’s degree and is locally employed at Hilmar Unified School District as the district’s psychologist. Another sister and college graduate lives out of town, and a younger brother will be graduating from California State University, Stanislaus, in May. A younger sister attends El Capitan High School in Merced.
Maria is very proud of her family and her siblings because of what they have accomplished in their educations. She talks about the constant encouragement from her father, an almond farmer in Snelling where they all grew up.
Her parents are from Mexico and when they all came to the United States her father wanted to make sure they became well-educated. He initially worked two to three jobs to help establish himself in the community of Snelling until he was able to purchase an almond farm. He made sure his children experienced the work required in farming to encourage them to seek better opportunities through higher education.
Maria could have easily decided to leave Merced County and work elsewhere, but both she and her sister decided to stay and become part of their local communities in the county to help make those communities better places to live. Maria and her siblings are first-generation graduates who are proud of their heritage and what they have accomplished so far.
Merced and the other communities of the county should be proud of all graduates from any level of education, but mostly proud of what productive citizens some of these graduates have become. Merced County has produced great role models for those young students who will guide us into the future.
Irene De La Cruz is a resident of Planada and has been involved with a number of community events and projects throughout Merced County. She owns her own business. She attended Merced College and California State University, Sacramento. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.