Symbols of pride have long been used to represent admiration and respect throughout history. From warrior paint to landmarks to flags, each carries its own significance and honor, but on the eve of June 5, 2014, it came in the form of a lightweight, navy blue windbreaker.
Kenneth M. Young, Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, has continually focused his efforts on ensuring the success of all students in the county during his seven year tenure in office. His primary goal? Seeing every student in Riverside County graduate from high school.
So it comes as no surprise that when he retrieves his most favored possession to wear under his gown during graduation ceremonies, the words that emboss the light jacket are Great Oak High School.
During his commencement speech at Great Oak High School’s 10-year anniversary graduation, Young went on to explain how he was bestowed the jacket as a gift years ago during the school’s opening days. Since then, he has taken it with him to every graduation ceremony in the county he has been a part of.
Young has reason to be proud, according to co-principal Keith Moore, Great Oak leads the rest as the number one school in the county – amongst 450,000 – and is in the top two percent of schools in the nation.
“In 1900, the graduation rate was below seven percent,” said Young. “In 2014, the graduation rate nationwide was 75 percent, 83.5 percent in the county, and Great Oak High School’s graduation rate was 97.4 percent.”
As cheers erupted from the graduates, it was apparent that they were all equally as proud of their accomplishments.
Graduating, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. One hundred and two graduates also received the distinct honor of recognition from the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. Hundreds more filled the ranks of National Honor Society, AVID, Advanced Placement and the California Scholarship Federation. This year, four students claimed the title of valedictorian – Kelly Von Zup, Tristan Griggs, Athena Konicki, and Hyo Jin Park.
There are many great schools in our midst but this one leads the rest, said Young.
“Great Oak is the Harvard of high schools in Riverside County,” he concluded. “As you turn your tassels, look around and take in the moment, and remember, I carry your school’s jacket with me wherever I go.”
As student speakers began to take the stage, there was one common theme that tied their speeches together: fear can, and should, be overcome.
Fear is defined as an emotion induced by an impending danger or threat. Whether real or imagined, the reactions to such a feeling are all the same. But the feeling of triumph, of overcoming your fears, is much greater.
Graduate Roge Karma noted that the number one common fear amongst humans is public speaking, the second being death. There is an underlying fear to be considered, however, Karma said, and that is the fear of failure.
When it comes to public speaking, it is not the act alone that scares individuals, but rather the embarrassment that keeps them from speaking their mind, he added.
Embarrassment stems from the fear of failure. But, as Karma stated, failure is a part of everyday life.
“We have to look at our failures not as a means to an end, but rather, a new beginning,” said Karma.
He went on to list the various ways in which he fails every day – failing to wake up at the first buzz of his alarm clock, failing to arrive to class on time, failing to complete and turn in his assignments. But instead of being repressed by these failures, Karma encouraged others to use these moments of failure as motivation – motivation to improve one’s self and succeed.
Valedictorian Athena Konicki had a similar encouragement. She related her experiences during junior year of high school to speeding when driving – rushing to arrive at a particular destination but missing the monuments along the way. While a fear for the future guided her actions – completing college applications and filing them before their deadlines, studying as hard as possible to receive the highest of grades, participating in numerous extracurricular activities to list on said applications, Konicki reminded fellow graduates that this fear only prevents you from experiencing the present.
“Slow down and enjoy the moment, but don’t ever be afraid,” Konicki said.
“We don’t have more time in life (to do things differently), so pay attention,” added fellow Valedictorian Hyo Kin Park.
Co-principal Keith Moore heaped praise on the class of 2014, reminding them that passion is the energy that pushes us forward. As he directed his attention to the 6,000 proud parents, friends, and loved ones in the stands, Moore reiterated the graduates’ accomplishments throughout the year in sports, music, and academics.
“Passion is the energy that drives the force of the spirit,” Moore said, telling the graduates that he hoped they would carry this passion with them for the rest of their lives.
You have built the foundation for future classes to come, he added.
Graduate Johnathan Balcon advised fellow graduates to remember the time they spent at Great Oak High School, along with the memories they made amongst its halls.
“Remember what Mr. Skaggs would always say – ‘Have a Great Oak day.’ And remember what Mr. Skaggs said to us today – ‘Have a Great Oak life,” Balcon said. “I am proud to be a part of this school.”
He added that graduates should focus on the challenges they faced, but more importantly, how they overcame them in order to succeed.
“We are the future CEOs, doctors, and rappers,” exclaimed Balcon. “Claim your future.”
2014 GREAT OAK GRADUATES
Sean Michael Adversalo
Nazeeh Al Ghazawneh
Donelle Ann Alcantara
Richard Cerros Baker
Rigel Kent Cervantes
Shaylynn Chlarson Hernandez
Arhon Jan Chua
Javier Cuan Martinez
Tatiana Diaz Gallegos
Eduardo Dominguez Beltran
Jazmyn Daniel Faulkner
Nicolas Gonzalez Breton
Domonique Guillen Malott
Kathryn Hanlon Hall
Cassie Victoria Ignacio
Luana Keale Andrea Jourdan
Hyun Min Ko
Alexander Kubokawa Vogtmann
Ria Ainsley Lazo
So Min Lee
Marcus Rawland Lloyd
Jessica Regine Masanque
Harley Newcome Riviere
Uyen Ly Nguyen
Kaitlin O Brien
Hyo Jin Park
Humberto Perez Sopena
Isabel Pineda Moreno
Eduardo Augustine Quinata
Reeva Rycca Reyes
Roniza Maric Ridenour
Jamie Roebuck Joseph
Carlos Romero Cota
Brendon Ross Greenberg
Daniel Aldrin Rubiano
Daniela Salazar Monarrez
Caitlyn Stinson Diess
John Louie Ray Tagulao
Daniel Jhun Tanjuaquio
Kaleigh Van Cura
Brandi Van Dinter
Meghan Van Hise
Clovis Vinant Tang