Hueneme graduates pay tribute to lost classmate

Hueneme Graduation.
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© Juan Carlo/VC Star
Alexis Lopez celebrates with his classmates Friday during the Hueneme High School graduation ceremony in Oxnard. © Juan Carlo/VC Star

The joy of achievement was on full display as the seniors of Hueneme High School celebrated their commencement ceremony Friday afternoon before a football stadium grandstand packed full of horn-blasting and sign-waving loved ones.

Also on display were their compassion and humanity, as they paid tribute to popular classmate Michael Collaso, who was struck and killed by a car mere weeks before he was to receive his diploma.

The students stood and cheered as Collaso’s parents, Larry and Michelle, were introduced by Principal Oscar Hernandez. They cheered even harder as his mother, wearing a red gown embroidered with her son’s name, was the first to step to the podium to collect his diploma.

“He was our only child,” she said. “We waited 10 years to have him.”

Even before the ceremony, as the students gathered in the school gym in their caps and gowns, red for boys and white for girls, they broke into impromptu applause as the Collasos passed through on their way to the field.

After paying their respects, the students focused on their big moment, barely able to contain their excitement.

Diana Arriaga, 17, recalled trying hard throughout high school.

“I thought this day was going to come, but sometimes I thought it would take another 10 years,” she said. “It’s finally here. It still hasn’t hit me.”

Joseph Ene, 17, said he plans to join the Coast Guard and has already talked to a recruiter.

“I’ve got to prepare for life. I can’t take anything for granted,” he said, noting that serving his country in a time of war “would be a great honor.”

Sarah Nicole Figueroa, 17, said she plans to study nursing at Oxnard College next year. “Graduation isn’t the end. It’s the beginning,” she said.

Yovani Ramirez, 18, said of his high school years, “I never gave up on myself.”

A musician who plays saxophone, clarinet and drums, he will be attending Oxnard College and hopes to transfer to UCLA.

Francisco Velasquez, 18, pulled off an unlikely feat to make it to graduation day. He needed 105 credits in his final year. A typical load is 60. But he made sacrifices, quit the school’s successful soccer team and buckled down to become the first of seven siblings to get his diploma.

“I’m going to try to become an auto body technician,” he said.

Gustavo Vieyra, 17, said he’d miss lunchtime and his English teacher, Claudine Muro.

“I didn’t just get to know her as a teacher, but as a person,” he said. He will be studying sociology at CSU Northridge in September.

As the crowd filed out, Andrew Franco, 18, a candy lei around his neck, celebrated with his mother, Sharon, who graduated from Hueneme 25 years ago, and father, Armando.

“He is our first and only child,” Franco’s father said. “I feel satisfaction that he pulled it off with everything that’s going on in society today and that he was able to stay on the right track.”

Hueneme High School

School district: Oxnard Union High School District

Spring enrollment: 2,000

Graduates: 420

Valedictorian: Alexander Alatorre

Salutatorian: Orlando Rodriguez

Principal: Oscar Hernandez

Past year’s highlights: AVID — Advancement Via Individual Determination – passed the national certification; NJROTC increased the number of students participating; boys soccer team won first league championship.

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