Sunday, June 26, 2011


Los Angeles County students thanked everyone from their parents to school security guards for helping them excel and stay safe during their high school careers.

Grad speech

Ziv Natan Bar-El gives a speech during graduation ceremonies at North Hollywood High School. Bar-El graduated from the school's Zoo Magnet Center. (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times / June 26, 2011)

By Beth Shuster, Los Angeles Times |

June 26, 2011 - High school graduation season concluded last week across Los Angeles County. Before hundreds of people, in English and in Spanish, valedictorians, student body presidents and others from the Class of 2011 gave their culminating remarks.

Their speeches touched on everything from the recession to their favorite foods. The student speakers gave credit to their teachers, counselors, principals — "Let's be thankful because even though we made them frustrated at times they never gave up, but pushed us harder and always expected more from us," said Laura Meneses, of Santee Education Complex. Some even thanked the security guards — "Shout out to … JB, Pillsbury, Jose, Tank, Will, and Ms. Neka, who made it safe for us to come to school every day," said Jessica Rayside, of Inglewood High School.

The students praised their parents for helping them make it to graduation — "To my mom and dad, through all the hardships and the tension of life, thank you for giving me all of the wisdom that I need to succeed," said Sean Tan, of Belmont High School.

And, of course, they talked about their friends — "Among us are those who can solve Rubick's cubes while blindfolded, knit hats and dolls for their loved ones, perform magic tricks, dance like beasts," said Jimin Hong, of the North Hollywood High School Highly Gifted Magnet.

Here are more excerpts from the students' speeches:

"Being aware of this honor, I began doing my research in order to prepare an excellent speech. However, I quickly discovered that everywhere I look it stated that nobody ever remembers the valedictorian's speech.… Ain't that great? So you mean to tell me I wasted four years in high school exceeding in all my classes just so I will not be remembered a year from now?"

-- Pedro Mariscal, Mendez Learning Center School for Engineering and Technology.

"So, now that we've all come a long way from our homes to be here, I would like to take a moment to retrace my memories here at North Hollywood, a rather hot home for Huskies: the piercing shrieks of incessant fire alarms, chicken bones on the stairs, morning hallways filled with sleepy, zombie-like students, bright yellow school buses, the tree in the quad that one day disappeared so suddenly, the most memorable Senior Memory Book, the one-dollar chicken burrito at Taco Bell, and Chiang San, my favorite Thai food restaurant. Believe it or not, I'm going to miss them all."

-- Jimin Hong, North Hollywood High School Highly Gifted Magnet.

"Since most of us have grown up in a low-income community, we know that life can sometimes be relentless and cruel to us. Some of our parents have gone through very harsh conditions just so they could give us the opportunities that they never had. However, we are all here tonight to prove to our family and friends that we are something special."

--Anthony Cerna, Santee Education Complex.

"Throughout our twelve-year educational career we have learned plenty. Matter of fact is that the most essential knowledge was attained during kindergarten: From sharing is caring."

-- Stefany Espana, Santee Education Complex.

"Four years ago we entered John Marshall High School for the first time. We entered fairly confident. We had faith in our abilities as students, athletes, and members of a community. However, to be honest, over the past several months leading to this day, I have found myself a bit scared. We have no way of knowing if the decisions we make will be future regrets or the things that flash in our minds as happy memories decades from now. We do not know if our lives will work out as planned. What I do know is regardless of the path we choose after today; whether we pursue a traditional path of higher learning or we choose to enlist in the military and serve this great country of ours, or whether we decide to strike out into the world and travel from continent to continent, our choices will be made with a clear heart and mind."

-- Manny Hernandez, John Marshall High School.

"Our program, established to create a school dedicated to learning about animals in a hands-on environment, was threatened with being shut down or going charter this year. Ever since I've been a student I have noticed how the criteria of what makes a good school has shifted from what I have learned to how well I do on a test. Standardized test makers try to treat everyone exactly the same, and it turns students into a series of numbers and percentages. When this is done, we lose sight of what is really important, the individuality of students and the new world we can create."

-- Ziv Natan Bar-El, North Hollywood High School Zoo Magnet Center.

"I grew up seeing my dad struggle, causing me to learn the meaning of sacrifice and perseverance early on. There was my father, a widowed man at the age of 30, raising two children on his own, constantly trying to make ends meet and playing the role of father and mother as best he could. That's my story, but mine is not the only story. As the years went on in East L.A., Boyle Heights or Lincoln Heights, some of us came from single-parent households, homes that felt they would fall apart right before our eyes, others grew up with parents that weren't always there, or grew into larger, multicultural families, or grew up with both parents at home. No two stories are the same, yet we share one thing in common: MASS [Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School]."

--Jessica Valles, Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School.

  • Times staff writers Howard Blume and Jason Song contributed to this report.

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