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Clockwise from top left: Members of the senior class of Calexico High School gather on Ward Field to spell out “2020.” Calexico High Principal Gabrielle Williams-Ballesteros hosts the virtual graduation ceremony shown June 11 online. Senior Irany Martinez sings the “Star-Spangled Banner” with the Calexico High Navy Cadets inset. Sisters Emily and Evelyn Gomez sing “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson. Senior adviser and teacher Adriana Gastelum speaks from the heart. Senior class President Efrain Villegas quotes Steve Jobs. SCREEN CAPTURES

Calexico High’s Virtual Grad Ceremony Celebrates Successes of 692 Seniors

Playing out over the course of three nights, Calexico High School’s class of 2020 commencement exercises, “The COVID-19 Edition,” got underway June 11 with a pre-recorded virtual version that appeared to amass some 2,400 viewers at one point.

During the two-and-a-half-hour webcast, it took Calexico High staff well over an hour alone to read off the names of the 692 seniors whose photos were part of the online presentation, which was filmed in Varner Gymnasium over several days instead of being a live experience at Calexico’s Ward Field, which is normally the case under non-viral conditions.

“Our time was cut short, but after this pandemic, we’ll all get together and celebrate the right way,” said Associated Student Body President Julieanna Gutierrez in opening the video and welcoming viewers. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Gutierrez was leaving open the faint possibility of a live, more traditional graduation, something other high schools in the Valley are contemplating for the fall.

Still, seniors will get a chance to collect their diplomas in person and take photos during a vehicle-bound version of commencement on June 18 and 19 that will end on a stage in the parking lot of the Calexico Unified School District office, Calexico High Principal Gabrielle Williams-Ballesteros said during a June 10 interview with this newspaper.

The event will be split into two nights, with around 350 seniors participating each date, Williams-Ballesteros explained. June 18 will feature the top-20 graduates, ASB officers and students in alphabetical order from A through K; June 19 will be students from L to Z, the principal said.

Meanwhile, the June 11 virtual ceremony featured seven summa cum laude (grade-point averages of 4.3 or higher), 42 magna cum laude (3.9 to 4.29 GPAs) and 110 cum laude (3.5 to 3.89 GPAs) graduates, whose names were read by Williams-Ballesteros and various members of the high school’s staff.

(To read about No. 1-ranked senior Ricardo Ozuna and No. 3 senior Juan Baltazar, click here.)

The entire presentation was hosted by Williams-Ballesteros, with pre-recorded speeches by student officers and select seniors, and performances by several students, capped with the conferring of the diplomas by Calexico Unified Superintendent Carlos Gonzales and the “turning of the tassel” by school board President Richard Romero.

The senior speeches were made by No. 2-ranked graduate Miranda Franco and No. 1 grad Ricardo Ozuna, respectively.

Following ASB’s Gutierrez opening, Williams-Ballesteros next introduced school district staff and board members and spoke directly to the seniors.

“The excellence you displayed during this challenging time makes us so proud of you,” she said. “Class of 2020, you are the shining star today.

“The staff at Calexico High School is proud of your accomplishments. You are a Calexico Bulldog, and, by definition, you are courageous,” Williams-Ballesteros said, consistently referring to the “tremendous milestone” that was achieved under “challenging circumstances.”

Senior class President Efrain Villegas lamented the loss of the second half of the class’ senior year, but told his fellow classmates to stand tall, persevere, enjoy life, and, in the words of late Apple luminary Steve Jobs, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out the voice of your life.”

Appearing to fight back tears, senior class adviser and teacher Adriana Gastelum recalled seeing so many of the class of 2020 at Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Junior High School as eighth-graders, her first year as a teacher in Calexico. The next year she would move to Calexico High and follow the class of 2020 through each successive grade.

“I hope to reach all of your hearts” … this “journey has been so rewarding to me,” Gastelum said. “From the bottom of my heart, this was the best and most heart-warming position I could take, being your senior adviser.

“I love you, my seniors,” she added.

Several student performances marked the virtual ceremony, starting with the presentation of colors by the Calexico High School Navy Cadets, which framed the singing of the national anthem by senior Irany Martinez.

A pre-recorded track from the Calexico High School Mighty Bulldog Marching Band played while photos of the band and some brief half-time footage was shown.

Also, the talented singing sisters, Emily and Evelyn Gomez, performed “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, with Emily playing a red Squier Telecaster and doing vocal harmonies alongside Evelyn on lead vocals.

A lengthy montage of student-submitted photos ended the video event over a soundtrack of “Good Old Days” by Macklemore featuring Kesha, “I’ll Always Remember You” from Miley Cyrus’ Hannah Montana and “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, among others.

A message to the Calexico High School class of 2020 bids farewell and congratulations over a photo of the campus. SCREEN CAPTURE
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