Kimberly Virgen was among a sea of Half Moon Bay High School students who last week donned cap and gown, eager to get their diplomas. More than most of her classmates, Virgen knows that living in pursuit of a goal means daily sacrifice.
For as long as she can remember, the 18-year-old’s goal has been to be a doctor, and she knew that dream job depended on maintaining top grades in her class. So, for the past 13 years, Virgen remembers plenty of afternoons when she was inside immersed in homework while others were playing outside.
“I was doing my own nerdy thing,” she said. “It excluded me from what everyone else was doing, and sometimes that was a good thing.”
Virgen lives with her family at the Moonridge Housing Complex, an affordable-housing community south of Half Moon Bay that is expressly for agricultural workers. Many of her peers lost interest in school as they grew up, she said. Virgen believes her obsession with school shielded her from drugs or street gangs that enveloped others in her neighborhood.
But it also came at a cost. Her friendships suffered because she put her studies above her social life. When her grandfather passed away recently, Virgen was torn between traveling to Mexico for a family funeral or staying home to study calculus. She chose her schoolwork, and she ended up suffering an anxiety attack from the stress. However, she ultimately passed her math class.
Now, after 13 years of straight A’s, Virgen will move on to the University of California, Los Angeles, to take the next step toward becoming a doctor. Beaming with delight, she was thrilled her hard work was paying off, but she said she was still seeking an equilibrium.
“I guess I’m still trying to balance my social life and school,” she said. “I’ve been obsessed with getting straight A’s, but I’ve fallen victim to this obsession, and I’ve missed out on other things.”
Hard choices and challenges became a theme of sorts for this year’s graduation, held on the football field Thursday night. Valedictorian Mitchell Martin delivered a stark send-off to his fellow graduates.
“We’re all screwed,” the top classmate began.
He listed dim job prospects, global warming, rising health care costs and a host of other worldwide woes that his generation would inherit. “We may not have asked for these problems, but they’re ours now,” he said.
Though the speech started on a somber note, Mitchell brought it around to his point — that his class could rise to the challenges.
As always, the event was a celebration, capturing the hopes and energy of the Coastside’s best and brightest. Classmates traded hugs along with their stories about which universities they will be attending and what careers they will pursue.
“Ten years from now I’ll be at the University of San Francisco learning to be a doctor. I’ll also be a professional musician and have my teaching credential,” said graduate Mathew Monteverde, who was not joking. “Yeah, I want to do a lot.”
The event marked a new era not only for the graduating class, but also many of their overseers. Principal Mary Streshly and Superintendent Rob Gaskill both reminded the class of 2012 that they also would be leaving the Coastside schools.
“I feel like I’ve grown with you over these four years. I should be a senior also,” Streshly said. “The chapter about Half Moon Bay High ends for us, but the story for all of you will continue to be told.”
At Pescadero High School
Nestor Marin spent the last month getting his schoolwork done.
“I wanted to walk with my class,” Marin said.
In the end, he did just that, accepting his diploma along with 18 classmates in Friday’s Pescadero High School graduation ceremony.
There was still one task for him to do. Moments after the last diploma was handed out, Marin stood up, faced his classmates, grabbed the tassel on his mortar board with his right hand and moved it from the left to the right side in a timeless symbol of graduation. His classmates followed Marin’s lead and the party was on.
“I’m going to keep it going,” Marin said. “High school graduation is just a baby step toward success. I am excited and happy for the future.”
His road to success will continue next year when he enrolls at the College of San Mateo, working toward a degree in administration of justice. He hopes to be a police officer.
There were caps and yearbooks to sign, photos to take and pose for, a few last looks into the rearview mirror and some hugs.
“I have been waiting for this night since the end of the last school year,” Andrew Turner said.
At the end of the night, with diplomas and scholarship awards in hand, all the hard work, the late nights and sacrifices proved to be worth it.
“My parents pushed me very hard,” said Jovany Arias. “Right now, they are very proud of me. They love me.”
At Pilarcitos High School
Eight students completed high school by graduating from Pilarcitos High School in Half Moon Bay.
This year’s 35-member Pilarcitos student body studied at their own pace, consulting teachers when in need. They included nine Half Moon Bay High independent-study students who had the option of walking in Half Moon Bay High ceremonies. Five of them did just that.
The student body also included the eight who graduated in ceremonies held in CUSD office buildings.
Among them was Bianca Camarena, 18. When gang involvement derailed her academic progress, she came to Pilarcitos two years ago.
“They gave me a second chance,” she said. She means to use that to help her younger brother stay out of trouble. “I don’t want him to be anywhere near what I was near,” she said.
“If you want to achieve in life and get a future, then you have to set your goals in high school and achieve them,” she said. She added that she wants to pursue auto mechanics and baking.
“Bianca has a ton of potential. A gigantic heart,” said Pilarcitos head teacher Dudley Hughes. “She was at one time going down a path of making questionable decisions and really turned it around.”
Staff writers Mark Foyer and Stacy Trevenon contributed to this story.