Noli Indian School celebrates its seniors as they graduate

Noli Indian School teacher Jacquelin Phillips, left corner, takes a selfie with seniors prior to their commencement at the Soboba Casino Resort Event Center, June 4. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Special to Valley News

After 11 Noli Indian School seniors completed practicing for graduation on the morning of June 4, they headed to the Soboba Sports Complex for the 2024 College and Career Signing Day and awards ceremony luncheon. Each student was given their own table for guests that included a framed portrait as well as a program that outlined the commencement ceremony to be held that night at 6 p.m. at the Soboba Casino Resort Event Center.

Principal Donovan Post welcomed students and their families as well as Noli School Board members, Tribal Council members and dignitaries from other tribes who were in attendance. Although signing days were once reserved for student athletes, Post said, “This is an opportunity for our school and community to celebrate and support our seniors who have committed to attend community college, university, trade school or the military after graduation.”

Damon Miranda was invited to offer a blessing and songs of honor and affirmation at both events. As a Peer Support Specialist at Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health Inc.’s Behavioral Health Services, the Soboba Tribal member has become a close partner with the school, offering talking circles and other interactive programs for all students in grades 6-12.

Students from the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians who received awards were Breanna Casarez and Luisa Rivera who made the honor roll for having a GPA of 3.5 or above. Several students were singled out by individual teachers for outstanding effort including Luisa Rivera for Outstanding Citizenship and Excellence in Economics and Breanna Casarez for Excellence in Art. Leandro “Andy” Silvas IV was recognized for his success in English.

Culture Department Coordinator/Instructor Tashina Miranda Ornelas chose Breanna Casarez and Luisa Rivera to receive beading awards. Breanna also received an award for Traditional Ecological Knowledge. The ASB Leadership award was presented to Luisa Rivera, who was also presented with a four-year sash from the AVID program and an award for winning the Write-Off.

Principal Post officially named Luisa Rivera as Salutatorian at the luncheon, stating, “She represents the school in every positive way. I couldn’t find a better example of what we hope to produce as a student, so this award was well earned.”

Deangelo Mangilinan from the Cahuilla Band of Indians was given his Valedictorian sash and Post told him, “You represent Noli so well; I am proud to give you this honor.” Chairwoman Erica Schenk presented him and Anthony Salgado with blankets. “On behalf of the Cahuilla Band of Indians, I would like to congratulate you on your accomplishments and dedication and for striving to move forward in your next journey in life; continue to make Cahuilla proud.”

Students were then directed to recite a pledge and sign a certificate in symbolism of the college or career they are committing to attend. Post said, “I want you to know the power of these words. We need you to be successful and persevere. You’re our future, our gift to this world.”

That evening’s commencement began with each student entering the Event Center to a pre-recorded message they made that offered thanks and gratitude, reflection on their time at Noli and ended with their favorite quote. Luisa Rivera chose one from Bob Marley: “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.”

Guest speaker Geneva Mojado is serving her second term as Vice Chair of the Soboba Tribal Council. Principal Post introduced her as “a friend, mentor, part of our staff but most importantly, she’s been a leader.”

She shared, “Creator has gifted us all with a purpose. Remember those that helped you get to this point and don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. Believe in yourself.”

After talking about her own journey as a varsity sports athlete at San Jacinto High School, college student at San Diego State University and Mt. San Jacinto College, serving her first term on Tribal Council at the age of 22, becoming a mother of two children and working for Native Challenge through Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health Inc. for several years, she said she still has more goals she wants to accomplish in order to make a bigger impact.

“Graduates, your path may change as you grow older or take on a new job and that’s okay,” Mojado said. “Just stay the course and continue to thrive. We all have a story and yours in just beginning. Know where you come from and let it help guide you. Have the courage to pursue the goals and dreams that you want. I will leave you with a quote from one doctor we’re all familiar with: ‘You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.’ from Dr. Seuss.”

Salutatorian Luisa’s speech included thanks to all her supporters, past and present. She has attended Noli since sixth grade and was active with AVID for six years and was named Homecoming Queen in October. She told her classmates, “Finally, our senior year is here. Now it’s time to live life to the fullest and never look back. Enjoy your life and be the person you always wanted to be. Let 2024 be the year you tell your children about and even your grandchildren. Congratulations Class of 2024; I’m proud of us all and thank you.” She plans to attend MSJC to pursue a career as a diagnostic medical sonographer.

Valedictorian Deangelo has been a Noli student for the past three years and said he has many happy memories there. He is headed to UCR to major in art. He hopes “to travel to Japan to study the art of manga and create stories that can have a positive influence on everyone around the world.” About his classmates, he said, “I see students who can fulfill their lives with the dreams they have and what they can accomplish.” He told them, “No matter what stands in your way during your darkest hour, you will always find hope in the brightest light.” He said that although high school may be the end of their childhoods, it is the beginning of their adult future. “It is an ending to a beginning and a beginning to an end. Deep down we are all proud of ourselves for reaching this far in life and we are proud of you parents for taking care of us this long. Thank you.”

Principal Post said, “I’m always proud of every class that graduates but these are the ‘COVID’ kids who started high school behind a computer screen.” To the students he said, “You have proven that no matter what obstacle gets in your way, you can overcome it.”

Tribal Council Chairman Isaiah Vivanco, Secretary Monica Herrera, Treasurer Michael Bentiste and Sergeant-at Arms Daniel Valdez joined Mojado in congratulating each graduate as they received their diploma. Noli School Board President Sandy Boniface, Vice President Lucille Briones, Secretary Avellaka Arviso, and Members-at-Large Mia Gonzalez and Darryl Silvas also shook the graduates’ hands before they returned to the stage for the traditional tassel turning moment led by Salutatorian Luisa Rivera and Valedictorian Deangelo Mangilinan.

Noli Indian School Class of 2024 graduates and their Tribal affiliations are Suzette Almada, San Juan Southern Paiute; Breanna Casarez, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians; Jesse Cruz, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians; Jasmine Lemus, Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge; Nataly Lemus, Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge; Deangelo Mangilinan, Cahuilla Band of Indians; Luisa Rivera, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians; Raymond Russell II, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians; Anthony Salgado, Cahuilla Band of Indians; Leandro Silvas IV, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians; and Matthew Torres, Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

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