Emily Mancilla remembers being a sixth-grader in 2017 when her older sister, Crystal, was about to graduate from Denair High School and participated in the first-ever Grad Walk.
“I remember being so excited to see all the graduates,” said Emily.
Friday morning, it was Emily’s turn to provide inspiration to hundreds of younger students as she and the 61 other members of the Denair High Class of 2023 donned their purple and white graduation gowns and then paraded through the campuses of Denair Middle School and Denair Elementary Charter Academy to loud applause amid the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
For Emily, the squeals and shouts of encouragement rang a little louder at DECA, where her nephew and niece – fourth-grader Raul and third-grader Isabella – were among those in the crowd.
“I know they’re excited,” Emily said. “I feel like the Grad Walk is a rite of passage for our family.”
The Grad Walk was the first step in a daylong series of events, including a mid-morning graduation practice walkthrough, leading up to Friday night’s high school commencement ceremony. Graduation begins at 7 p.m. at Jack Lytton Stadium.
The march began at the high school, with seniors – girls in white robes, boys in purple – paired up to walk first to the DMS campus next door and then across Lester Road to DECA, where students in grades K through five sat excitedly on the ground.
The symbolism of the older students’ educational journeys – was intentional. Many in the Class of 2023 – like Emily – began as kindergartners at DECA 13 years ago. The Grad Walk provided a vivid example to the younger students of what they can accomplish if they continue to study as they progress from campus to campus.
“It shows that education matters and that when you put in the work, anything is possible,” said DHS Principal Breanne Aguiar, who was participating in her first Grad Walk. “Graduation is really a huge accomplishment for our students and for them to be a role model for younger students is exciting.”
The procession culminated on the sidewalk near the DECA gym, when the graduates formed a human tunnel. The younger kids filed through one-by-one, many laughing and shrieking with delight.
A few minutes later in the final assembly of the school year, DECA Principal Laura Cardenas led one last loud cheer for the Class of 2023.
“Just think,” she told her students, pointing at the graduates as they walked through. “That will be you someday.”