GUSTINE - Adversity and challenges were no match for the dedication and determination of Gustine High School’s 2019 valedictorian and salutatorian.
Friday evening, Yatciri Vega Caballero and Citlali Lopez Ortiz will stand at the head of the graduating class as valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.
The straight-A students and close friends share a number of common traits.
Each was an English language learner.
Each is a first-generation college student following in the footsteps of a supportive older sibling who is now attending college.
Both credit supportive parents for instilling in them the value of education and encouraging them to pursue their dreams.
And each was active in AVID, which helped prepare them to pursue their own college goals and dreams.
Vega grew up looking to each year’s valedictorian and salutatorian as role models and aspiring to that honor.
Friday, she will be the student delivering the valedictory address before classmates, family and friends.
Vega said she has been motivated to excel academically since elementary school.
“At first kindergarten was hard because I was adjusting to the language, but then I started to like going to school. I knew I was going to be able to do something with my education, so I always pushed to do my best,” she explained.
Her parents, Leopoldo Vega and Socorro Caballero, set high expectations and encouraged their children to do well in school, Vega added, and her older sister Brandy was also supportive.
Separated by just one year, Vega said, she and her sister often helped one other.
Her years at Gustine High were a time of personal growth, Vega reflected.
“It pushed me out of my comfort zone,” she explained. “When I was in elementary, I was shy. I am now not afraid to do different things. It helped me come out of my shell.”
At Gustine High, she was active in Link Crew, California Scholastic Federation, AVID, color guard, Bon Appetit, Spanish Club, Club Med and Renaissance.
She plans to attend UC Davis to major in neurobiology, physiology and behavior, and minor in Spanish. Vega plans to become a physician’s assistant.
Her decision to go into the medical field and desire to help others were influenced by her family’s experience with a special needs loved one, Vega said.
Her words of advice to others?
“As hard as it seems, it is possible and is going to be worth it,” Vega said of the importance of perseverance when pursuing goals and dreams.
Lopez, the daughter of Martha Ortiz de Lopez and Jesus Lopez, is equally driven to succeed.
Even when her family was facing hardship, the salutatorian shared, her determination to do well in school never wavered.
“In this world you need an education,” she stated. “I try to (imagine) myself in a situation where I wouldn’t have an education or go to college....I don’t think I would have a passion to do certain things without education. I don’t think I would be where I want to be.”
In addition to the encouragement of her parents, Lopez said, her older sister Yadira - who was valedictorian of the GHS Class of 2017 - was also a role model to follow. Yadira helped her select her freshman schedule with an eye on meeting college requirements, Lopez noted.
She acknowledges that improving her English skills is an ongoing process, but added that knowing two languages will be beneficial in today’s world.
The close-knit environment at Gustine High has been beneficial, Lopez added.
“I can connect more with my teachers,” she remarked. “I feel like that is why I have been able to be more successful.”
She has been active in Renaissance, California Scholastic Federation, Club Med, AVID, Spanish Club, Bon Appetit, Link Crew, track and cross country at Gustine High.
Lopez plans to attend California State University, Stanislaus, and wants to become a registered nurse.
The Gustine High commencement begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the school stadium.
Pioneer High, GMS
Pioneer High School held its commencement Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m. in the Gustine High auditorium.
Gustine Middle School will hold its eighth-grade promotion ceremony tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. on the GMS campus.