Rancho Cielo
The 2024 graduating class of Rancho Cielo tosses their caps in the air in celebration of their graduation. (Courtesy of Rancho Cielo)

SALINAS — Rancho Cielo Youth Campus, along with educational partner John Muir Charter Schools, celebrated a significant milestone this month when 73 students received their high school diplomas, which makes it the largest graduating class — spanning all vocational programs — in its 24-year history.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Rancho Cielo is dedicated to transforming the lives of at-promise youth through education, vocational training and mentorship. On June 14, many powerful words were shared before John Muir Charter School CEO RJ Guess handed out diplomas.

“People always ask, ‘Was it worth it?’” said Rancho Cielo Founder Judge John Phillips to the capacity crowd. “It’s all worth it on one day — this day. Graduation! And by far, this is our largest graduating class.”

Phillips reflected on the early days when the six or seven total graduates would insist on posing with their significant others in his “badass” 1949 Mercury sedan. He also noted the enthusiasm and faith instilled in students at Rancho Cielo.

“(The students) develop a great deal of self-esteem and self-confidence they never had before,” Phillips said. “To me, that’s more important than just the diploma.”

Rancho Cielo CEO Chris Devers showcased an example of these traits at work in one particular graduate, Mirel Mejia, who is currently a Rancho Cielo/John Muir employee, simultaneously earning her doctorate and on a path to run the school one day.

Devers added, “We have more students working and going to college than ever.” More than 50 graduates are already committed to continuing their education or working full- or part-time.

“Rancho Cielo is about hope and opportunity,” Devers said. “As you take the next steps in your journey, remember the lessons you’ve learned and be the best version of yourself in anything you do.”

Rancho Cielo
Rancho Cielo student speaker and graduate Julie Gonzalez is surrounded by loved ones at the June 14 graduation. (Courtesy of Rancho Cielo)

Student speaker Julie Gonzalez boasts a larger-than-life smile and is one of the many graduates who’s learned to be the best version of herself during her time at Rancho Cielo.

“As I reflect on the last year, I’m amazed how welding has transformed my life,” Gonzalez said. “It’s new for me to have these opportunities since doors were closed to me before. I didn’t know what I wanted in life, but now I know I can persevere.”

Gonzalez expressed that her first thought is to respect herself and those around her daily when she wakes.

“Dedicating time to what matters most begins with oneself,” she said. “And your drive to put in the effort to continue is a matter of will.”

Alumni speaker Ashleigh Soto is another example of Rancho Cielo’s power to heal someone initially written off by the rest of the world. As a longtime cement mason for Don Chapin Co., she regards Rancho as her saving grace.

“Today, your true journey begins,” Soto said. “Never forget where you came from and what led you here.”

Keynote speaker Hartnell College President Michael Gutierrez began with a question: “Do you understand your identity? Do you understand who you are?”

“Be proud of where you came from,” Gutierrez said. “And know where you’re going. It’s about passion. The world is about what we can do to add value to others.”

He concluded that the more we learn about others, the more we learn about ourselves, and it will give us “happiness, health and positive relationships for our community.”

According to Rancho Cielo, its students have “demonstrated exceptional dedication and commitment to their academic and personal growth, and this year’s graduation ceremony was a tribute to their hard work as they embark on the next chapter of their lives, equipped with the skills, knowledge and confidence to succeed.”

Rancho Cielo
Rancho Cielo’s Development Director Elizabeth Jimenez gives the closing remarks during the 2024 graduation. (Courtesy of Rancho Cielo)
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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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