VINELAND — “I did it for her,” Vineland High School graduate Itzel Herrera wrote on her graduation cap to honor her extended family of mentors.
Her loved ones inspired her trip to Gittone Stadium, where she was among 538 graduates to be awarded a diploma on Wednesday.
“Over the last four years these graduates have worked, studied, practiced, prayed, played and grown in so many ways,” Superintendent Alfonso Llano said, addressing the challenges they overcame.
A deadly virus forced sophomores and third-year students out of schools.
Now they pass through metal detectors to enter middle and high school buildings.
The 144thth The start was marked by “a higher level of security than in the past,” the superintendent said, noting the increase in shootings across the country. “We want to make sure we are taking every precaution to protect our children.”
The graduates showed no fear when it came to pursuing their dreams.
Yahira Cuevas, the high school president, is the first in her family to attend college. Her parents, barely older than she is now, moved from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Cumberland County, where Cuevas excelled in her studies. She goes to Arizona State University to study neurobiology and pursue a career in medicine.
Cuevas shared her pride in the diversity of the VHS class of 2022.
“We have some students who come from different countries and have worked very hard to get their degrees,” she said in her address.
In Spanish, the class teacher said she was proud of them and congratulated their families.
As his world seemed smaller during quarantine, John Howard focused on dreaming bigger.
“Even in these trials and tribulations, I think about my future and that motivates me to go through difficult times,” says the graduate. “I don’t like to be satisfied, I try to keep shooting higher, I’m never satisfied.”
Around his neck he wore a necklace with the inscription of his late grandfather, Glenroy Howard.
“He taught me to be a respectful man, he taught me to live with God,” he said, touching the necklace. “I take him everywhere with me, he is my motivation.”
Howard’s plan is to get a business degree and get his real estate and hairdressing licenses.
“Entrepreneurship is the best thing for me,” he said.
Rodrick Zapanta had trouble describing in detail all the honours, medals, and stoles draped around his shoulders that marked his academic success. He was one of 16 seniors in the district’s applied mathematics and science department to earn an associate’s degree from Rowan College of South Jersey before accepting a high school diploma.
“I’m grateful we were given this opportunity,” said Zapanta, who was also the captain of the VHS tennis team.
“It’s important to be versatile, I learned that early on,” he said.
Zapanta is enrolled at Rutgers University to major in Electrical/Computer Engineering.
“Life has a way of teaching you lessons,” Azia Rogers, president of the fraternity, told her classmates.
She compared her four-year high school experience to hiking through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.
“The bridge leads to a tunnel and you’re so anxious to get out of that tunnel that you don’t watch for time and distractions,” Rogers said. “I wasn’t feeling well, but I held my ground and made it here today.”
She challenged her classmates to be patient, humble, and true to themselves.
“When things get tough, you always go back and remember why you’re doing it,” Rogers said.
To reinforce the message, the class received an encouraging speech from a surprise speaker, Isiah “Pop” Pacheco.
“I was in these seats four years ago,” Pacheco said. “I’m here today to tell you that anything is possible if you believe in yourself and in education.”
He shared how “hard work, perseverance and dedication” led to a scholarship to Rutgers University, where he graduated.
Then he added with a grin, “I was recently drafted to the Kansas City Chiefs,” to cheers from the crowded stands.
VHS Director Suzette DeMarchi promoted the achievements of the Class of 2022, including those in academics, athletics and the arts.
“You really are a resilient and amazing group of students; They have proven time and time again that nothing is unattainable,” she said. “Remember that graduation day is not the end, it is just the beginning.”
The graduates left a gift for future VHS students. They funded a bench to be placed in the butterfly garden near the entrance of the VHS 11-12 performing arts wing.
“Once we got through the pandemic, it was really important to us to make sure they capture those little moments,” Cuevas said. “Sit down, relax. and enjoy the time they have together.”