EL CENTRO — After Alana Villa was sent to an alternative education school as a freshman for misconduct, she spent her sophomore year working her way back to Central Union High.
“I started getting into fights at school, so because of my behavior, they sent me to Valley Academy,” Villa said. “When I got there, I was so unmotivated, and I fell into a depression because I let myself down. I knew I was better than that.”
While there, she started to reflect and work on herself.
“I had a good amount of time to re-evaluate my decisions and think about why I was there,” Villa said.
She soon started to realize how great Valley Academy was, and all the ways that it could help you if you took advantage of it.
“I started pushing and getting everything (done) I needed to get done,” Villa said, to get back to regular high school.
On June 2, the 18-year-old Villa’s journey came full circle, when she was able to call herself an official graduate of the Central Union High School Class of 2020.
“(I’ll) never regret how my journey, my high school experience, went. I learned so much,” Villa said.
As she was pushing herself to get those requirements done, she grew as a person. She prioritized academics, rebuilt relationships with her classmates and teachers, and became involved in a journalism class, which boosted her confidence and speaking skills.
After all her work to get back to CUHS, she was sad that she could not walk to receive her diploma alongside the approximately 428 students in her graduating class.
Their principal, Craig Lyon, addressed these unprecedented circumstances during CUHS’ virtual graduation.
“I want to let the class of 2020 know how proud I am to be principal at Central Union High School,” Lyon said. “Your dedication and resiliency during this difficult time of distance learning and the COVID-19 pandemic is unmatched.”
He continued by thanking the teachers, staff, administrators, and everyone who had helped support the school, and the graduates.
Senior class president, Marcia Chavez, continued the ceremony by leading the pledge of allegiance. The Great Spartan Band then played the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and continued to play different pieces such as “I’m So Glad” and “Spartan Medley” between speeches.
Senior Erica Garcia Soberanes addressed her classmates. She started by thanking everyone who supported her and then spoke about how the pandemic has affected her high school experience.
“I’ve realized I never wanted high school to end. I was extremely sad and devastated … when I heard the announcement.” Garcia Soberanes said. “We are all hurting in different ways, and it’s unfair. Something was taken away from us within a blink of an eye. This was supposed to be our year, this was supposed to be our senior year.”
She listed some of the things “we were supposed to do,” like having cap-and-gown and panoramic pictures, or dress-up for that last prom. And how they were not able to go on all the senior trips and pull senior pranks.
“Most importantly, we were supposed to graduate, walk across the stage and receive our diploma before starting our new chapter of our lives,” said Garcia Soberanes. “I feel your pain … but we have to look at what we did have and cherish those moments. Moments we are not going to give up on.”
She continued by thanking everyone for being a part of the pep rallies, assemblies, and other moments that are part of high school. She concluded by addressing her classmates and the class of 2021.
“And to the upcoming class of 2021, don’t blink, enjoy every moment you have, because you never know what could happen, live your life to the fullest, and most importantly, don’t take things for granted,” Garcia Soberanes said. “To my graduating class of 2020. This is definitely a year no one will ever forget. … We can say we made history. So, congratulations, we finally made it. Thank you and good luck.”
Senior Daniel Villicana followed with some words for his classmates.
“We all dreamed of the day we would stand on the field with our family and friends cheering us on as we marched towards the stage; instead, we are the generation that was struck with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Villicana. “However, the greatness of our generation is not defined by our misfortune but how we respond in the face of adversity. We will be remembered as the generation that was able to overcome.”
He spoke on how high school was a transformative experience for him. He also reminded his classmates to think about what they have worked toward.
“I’ve had so many great experiences in the last four years. These experiences have all led me to become a more confident and determined person without losing sight of who I am.” Villicana said. “We all worked on something during our time at Central. Take pride in what you have accomplished and remember the memories we have made.”
Holding onto the memories that have been made is something Alana Villa also tries to remember. She spoke about how a parade in their honor, and “Swag Night,” an in-car impromptu graduation, are also heart-warming high school moments.
“Sometimes things happen, and it’s just life, so you just have to take from what you got,” Villa said.