Gonzales Soledad high school graduations
Members of the Gonzales High Associated Student Body (above left) instruct their classmates to move their tassels to conclude the 112th Commencement. Soledad graduate Anthony Trevino (above right) raises his arms in celebration as he proudly displays his diploma. (Photos by Michael Ramirez & Contributed)

SALINAS VALLEY — Under clear skies and a cool Saturday morning, both Gonzales and Soledad high schools celebrated their Class of 2024 graduations with inspiring ceremonies that marked significant milestones.

Large class graduates from Gonzales High

The largest graduating class in many years received their diplomas on Saturday at Dick Force Stadium during the 112th Annual Commencement for Gonzales High School

The ceremony took place on the grass and dirt track for the last time, as the renovation will begin this week for the running track and playing fields.

Nearly 195 graduates braved a cool weekend morning that ended with the sun coming out just in time for the speeches by salutatorian Alexis Ayala-Ochoa and valedictorian Joziah Uribe-Lopez.

Ayala-Ochoa spoke about his life growing up in Gonzales with his father in Mexico and his mother having to work hard in the fields. He spoke of how he handled all the changes that life brought him and encouraged his classmates to handle and appreciate those changes in their lives.

“Change may be challenging and unpredictable, but also holds immense potential for growth and transformation,” said Ayala-Ochoa, who will be attending Stanford University in the fall. “Take the opportunities that are in front of you because if not, then you wouldn’t know what they are for. I know all of your families are proud of your accomplishments. Let’s go Class of 2024.”

Uribe-Lopez reflected on how his ideals of extra-curricular activities changed as the years went by in his high school career.

“At first I imagined a picturesque high school career, filled with an abundance of extra-curricular activities, clubs and an intense course curriculum to hammer to worthy colleges as a working scholar,” he said. “As time spent in these activities turned to weeks, months and years, my view of extra-curriculars changed. Now they are passions, interests and fundamental pillars of my everyday life and identity. Now I dedicate hours and weeks to music, engineering and programming, and they are not just fluff to add to my college resume.”

Uribe-Lopez encouraged his classmates to continue to make memories and pursue their true passion.

“Do things that excite you, and I encourage you to live your lives with passion and not be bound by predetermined ideals of success,” he said. “Our lives are not defined by the successes we’ve achieved but by the experiences that made our lives memorable. To the Class of 2024, it has been an absolute honor to know you these last 13 years, and I’d like to thank you for making my high school career memorable.”

Principal Michael Arredondo presented the Class of 2024 to Pam Gildersleeve-Hernandez so that the presentation of diplomas could begin. Toward the end of the distribution of diplomas, All-League track hurdler and graduate Alen Valdez gave the audience a thrill by performing a somersault as he stepped off the walkway.

The June 8 graduation concluded with the turning of the tassels ceremony that was led by the Gonzales High School Associated Student Body officers.

The Gonzales High School Concert Band provided music from start to finish, including a rendition of “Big G” at the recessional. Parents, friends and staff then hit the grass field for hugs, handshakes and high fives.

350 seniors graduate from Soledad High

The best of Soledad filled Gene Martin Stadium on Saturday for the 24th Annual Commencement Ceremony, during which 350 students were recognized for their commitment to schoolwork, athletic teams, clubs and activities.

Soledad High School Class of 2024 valedictorian Diego Guillen, who will attending the University of California, Berkeley in the fall, spoke to all in attendance at the graduation about how success must be measured by the steady progress one makes.

“When looking at success stories, we often focus on the grand achievement, the magnum opus at the end of the road and we overlook the importance of the small, consistent efforts that lead to it,” Guillen said. “When considering any success story, rarely do they come from one big dramatic action. More often, they result from dedication, perseverance and incremental progress.”

Guillen added that entrepreneurs who build a thriving business do so by one customer, one product and one innovation at a time, while in the same manner, athletes who win a championship do so by one practice, one game and one victory at a time.

“We have gotten to this point one year, one class, one assignment at a time,” he continued. “Amidst the roar of success, the quiet, steady progress of laying one brick at a time can seem insignificant, but it is crucial nonetheless. For those of you that already fell asleep, here’s the shorter version: One, take pride in every step you take towards your goal, no matter how small, and two, don’t listen to the haters.”

Guillen was a true student-athlete, as he competed this year in cross country and soccer for the Aztec teams.

Sophia Martel, who shared the co-salutatorian honors with Melissa De Anda, expressed her thanks and gratitude to her family, friends and classmates that have helped her in her high school career.

“I am happy to share the spotlight with my fellow co-salutatorian Melissa De Anda, who is one of my closest and smartest friends,” Martel said. “From having the exact same class schedule sophomore year to taking a college math class together senior year, Melissa has always been there for me.”

Martel made her speech bilingual as she spoke in English and Japanese. She recently returned to Soledad after graduating early and traveling to Tokyo to play soccer.

“To all my teachers from Windy Acres, Jack Fransicioni Elementary School, Bolsa Knolls Middle School, Soledad High School, Jumonji High School, Hartnell College — thank you. To all my coaches from the Y, Girl Scouts, Aztekitas, Leoncitas, PV, Earthquakes, Bay Area Surf, Jumonji and Coach Mo and J2 —thank you,” Martel said.

Martel will continue to train in soccer this summer as she prepares to play soccer and study at San Jose State University in the fall.

The June 8 graduation concluded with a presentation of the diplomas by the Soledad Unified School District Board of Trustees.

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