Included in the hall of fame ceremony was the revalidation of Oxnard High as an AVID National Demonstration school. The AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program is designed for students in the academic middle whose parents never went to college, but who have the desire to attend college and the willingness to work hard.
O’Connell, who graduated from Oxnard High in 1969, clapped and sang along to his favorite band’s tunes while wearing the letterman’s jacket he earned for playing on the school’s varsity basketball team.
After accepting a plaque from two cheerleaders as the first inductee into the hall, O’Connell said it was more of an honor than “winning the Heisman Trophy, an Academy Award or Grammy all rolled into one.”
“Thank you for the hall of fame recognition; this is a big-time honor,” O’Connell said. “It’s more special being the first. There are so many other graduates that I keep in touch with who are more deserving.
“And what a great band and choir,” he added, “which is why we have to keep the arts in our schools.”
O’Connell, who was a member of the school’s marching band, said he was a “great supporter” of the AVID program as state superintendent and remains a backer.
“I’m a huge believer in AVID,” O’Connell said. “It’s the most cost-effective program we have in California. Its mission is to reduce the achievement gap, and that is the biggest, single civil rights issue in the nation.
“I’m the first in my family to graduate from college. Education is a key to success, and there is no shortcut to success — believe me.”
Ventura County Supervisor John Zaragoza, also an Oxnard High graduate and the first in his family to earn a college degree, said O’Connell has set an example for students at Oxnard High.
“Jack, you really are a role model,” he said. “And you’re right; an education is the key to success. I had a teacher who motivated me to go on to college.”
Oxnard High Principal Eric Riegert spearheaded the drive to establish the hall of fame.
“A 100-year-old school should have a hall of fame, and I’m proud to be part of it,” Riegert said. “The special people should be remembered, and that’s what the hall is all about. Now the kids can see this and know they can do great things in the future.
“Jack is the first,” he added, “but we expect to have 20 to 25 more by the end of the year.”