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High school graduation speeches in Stanislaus County focus on future

High school graduation is not the ending, it's the beginning.

That message, along with some reminiscing about dances, football games, senior trips and infamous teachers, are the parting words student speakers hope to convey.

Some student speakers want to make fellow graduates recollect and look to the hopeful future; others want to try something different or perform their last punch line.

Modesto High School's Kelsey Mesa and Tim Sutter went the unique route. They wrote a poem using the "Once Upon a Time" fairy tale theme. They'll alternate lines of the piece, which highlights the senior class's activities over the past four years while looking ahead.

"For every 'once upon a time' there's an ending, but there's also another 'once upon a time,'" Sutter said. "It's the typical graduation thing to say, but we're presenting it in a different way."

Both valedictorians and salutatorians at Oakdale High School also used the duo-speech approach at graduation Friday.

Ceres High School salutatorian Yubana Pulido and valedictorian Maria Ruiz are focusing on memories and encouragement in their speeches.

"I'm making mine more sentimental because I'm a sentimental person, but I don't want to cry," Ruiz said.

Pulido's extended family members told her to make her remarks entertaining.

Ceres High School Principal Robert Palous will attend his 17th and last high school graduation. The soon-to-retire administrator said the best student speeches are the ones that are unique and connect to the graduating class. Palous said he advises speakers to thank family, friends and educators who have helped them.

"Graduation is not for you, it's for your family," he said. "You'll get all the presents and money" but seeing grads walk across the stage and get their diploma is a big moment for parents, he said.

Using a quote from Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," Turlock High School's Anne Coleman urges fellow Bulldogs to take the path less traveled and to realize their full potential.

Speeches from Davis High School's Stephen Macko and Johansen High School's Abbey Ringler also focus on the positive by highlighting change that the graduates have gone through and will continue to experience.

"I wanted to give a final send-off, leave everyone with a good impression," Macko said.

Adding a little humor

Andrew Vera, on the other hand, is hoping to continue his reputation as the Johan-sen High School Class of 2009's class clown until the final tassel turn.

Vera's speech draws comparisons between now and when the students first started high school -- if someone was a "crybaby" when they were younger, they became a drama queen in high school, he said. He uses sarcasm to imitate various groups of students across Johansen's campus, such as squealing cheerleaders, he said.

"I like making serious situations funny," Vera said. "(Commencement is) going to be in the hot sun and I want people to be entertained."

Since most area graduation speakers are leaders -- whether they're the top grade-getters, class president or those confident enough to audition -- some said they tried to reach out to all of their colleagues during their addresses.

"I wanted to include everyone on campus," Vera said. "We've all learned all sorts of things, were nervous about meeting new people, there was typical high school drama, or we had the same experiences with teachers."

Most student speeches will run three to five minutes. Ceres High's Palous said he gives students as much time as he allots other speakers, including the superintendent. Making room for remarks from graduates is just as important.

"It's nice to hear from their peers," said Brent Rodriguez, Modesto High student activities director. "They've been hearing us talk for four years. It hits home a little bit more when it's their peers speaking."

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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