Fresno Unified’s second Latinx High School Celebración honors 559 graduates

The kNOw Youth Media’s Giyanna Olivas (left) and Melanye Rodriguez Serna (middle).

It has been 1,095 days since Fidel Villatoro, a Bullard High senior, saw his family and his home in El Salvador. Three years ago, Villatoro made the decision to leave everything behind with the hope to pursue the American dream. 

Staying true to the central San Joaquin Valley, the second annual Latinx High School Celebración honored 559 graduating seniors in Fresno Unified on June 2 at the Save Mart Center, all of which share similar backgrounds as Villatoro. 

As one of three student speakers, Villatoro shared his story of perseverance and resilience and how proud he was of the choice he made three years ago. 

“En mayo del 2021 tomé la dura decisión de abrochar mis maletas con el sueño americano en el pecho y la palabra esperanza en mi mente,” Villatoro said. “Me despedí de mis padres con un abrazo fuertemente que aún lo recuerdo con mucha nostalgia.”

“In May of 2021, I made the difficult decision to pack my bags with the American dream in my heart and the word hope on my mind,” Villatoro said. “I said goodbye to my parents with a tight hug that I remember to this day with a lot of nostalgia.”

Presented by Fresno Unified School District and funded entirely by sponsors and donors, the celebration featured cultural performances, student and keynote speakers, and the presentation of a traditional Hispanic stole to each graduating senior. 

First generation students and students who earned the Seal of Biliteracy and the State Seal of Civic Engagement were recognized as well. 

“I love that this wonderful new tradition not only highlights the achievements of our Latinx graduates, but celebrates the culture and traditions of our families,” said Interim Superintendent Misty Her. 

Vianey Medina (middle) poses with two other graduates.

Vianey Medina, an Edison High senior and one of the student speakers, spoke about how throughout her high school career, she spent everyday and every weekend the same way. During the week Medina would wake up at 6 a.m. and get ready for school and on weekends she would prepare for work at 4 a.m. to help her parents. 

“Esta es la rutina que sigo cada día de cada semana como muchos de ustedes presentes aquí hoy,” Medina dijo. “Como muchos aquí hoy, mis papás llegaron a este país sin entender el idioma y con nada, pero eso sí, venían llenos de esperanza y sobre todo, con mucha motivación.” 

“This is the routine I have followed every day of every week like many of you present here today,” Medina said. “Like many of you here today, my parents arrived in this country not knowing the language and with nothing except they were full of hope and above all with tons of motivation.”

Medina also shared with the crowd that will continue her academic career at San Jose State University.

Graduating students expressed their gratitude for being able to celebrate this milestone in a way that was representative of their roots and that was in a language their parents were able to understand. 

“This celebration is making an impact in my family because they are seeing generations grow and carry their roots,” said Mariana Silva, a Fresno High senior. 

Silva also explained that it meant a lot to her to be able to celebrate with her family as well as with friends from other schools. 

“Being a part of the Latinx graduation celebration is meaningful to me because I get to celebrate it not only with my family but with others of the same culture,” Silva said. “It gives us an opportunity to show where we come from and show our pride, as well as being able to ‘graduate’ and walk the stage with friends from other schools.” 

Juan Lucatero, Fresno High senior said the celebration was a great way for him to relish his background. 

“Being a part of the Latinx graduation celebration made me feel proud of who and where I come from,” Lucatero said.

Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, gave the keynote address at the commemoration ceremony and spoke about how as a proud Zacatecano, he is full of pride to see future generations of Latinx students achieving great accomplishments.

He gave the graduates some advice and told everyone in the crowd that an important life lesson is to always learn from their mistakes. 

“No tengan miedo de fallar,” Jiménez-Sandoval dijo. “Cuando cometan un error aprendan a abrazar las lecciones que vienen con ese error para que estén preparados para la próxima vez y puedan evitarlo nuevamente.”

“Don’t be scared of failing,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. “When you make a mistake, learn to embrace the lectures that come with that mistake so that in the future you are prepared and are able to avoid committing the same errors.” 

Graduates hold flags of the countries represented in the celebración.

Jiménez-Sandoval is a supporter of the celebration because he recognizes that a majority of students in the Central Valley are of Latinx roots. 

“What motivates me is to really establish with our youth, the power of leadership and the notion that the numbers that we have out there, more than 50% of all graduates are of Latinx descent,” he said. “That means that the leaders of this region, they are it.”

The night concluded with a baile style finish to the song “Arriba Pichataro” by Bandas Tradicionales where everyone on stage and on the floor was able to get up and dance and display their Latino pride. 

The celebration will continue next year, with the plan to include even more students, especially those from Clovis and Central Unified School Districts.

“En los años que vienen queremos incluir a otros distritos como Clovis Unified,” dijo Kevin Hernandez, un junior de Edison High y miembro del grupo de planificación. 

“In future years to come, we want to include other districts like Clovis Unified,” said Kevin Hernandez, an Edison High senior and member of the planning committee. 

Villatoro, like many of the graduates, faced hardships throughout his journey. In the end, he said the sacrifices and the challenges were the real prize.

“Triunfar en la vida no es ganar, triunfar en la vida es caerse y volverse a levantar una y otra vez,” Villatoro dijo. 

“Triumph in life is not winning, triumph in life is to fall and lift yourself up again and again,” Villatoro said.

Jazmin Alvarado (she/her)

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