Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian Christopher Harper adds a positive note to the commencement ceremony of Watsonville, Aptos, Santa Cruz Adult Education at the Mello Center.

Editor’s note: this story is a preview for the graduation section that will come out on Friday. We will do our best to highlight all the schools that held ceremonies.

Over 90 students crossed the stage in front of a full house at the Henry J. Mello Center May 23 to receive their diplomas from Watsonville/Aptos/Santa Cruz Adult Education.

“This is your day; each one of you is very special,” Director Dr. Nancy Bilicich told her graduates moments before commencement. “If you’re excited — we’re excited.”

Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian Emilia Sanchez carries an armload of flowers into the graduation ceremony of Watsonville, Aptos, Santa Cruz Adult Education.

Watsonville resident Victoria Still, 24, graduated with her GED diploma, six years after she dropped out of school in her senior year.

She said that a series of moves—six states and 14 different schools—as well as family issues, manifested in “recklessness and partying and hanging out with the wrong people.”

Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian Nancy Bilicich, director of Watsonville, Aptos, Santa Cruz Adult Education prepares her graduating class for commencement.

“I just wasn’t doing too well, personally,” she said.  “I made a poor decision. But I just decided I wasn’t going to do it anymore.”

Still always knew she wanted to finish her high school requirements. And so she contacted the Adult School, met with the counselor and was enrolled in the class the next day.

Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian This graduate spelled out a simple positive message on his cap.

Still finished the classes in eight months, all while working full-time and taking a class at Cabrillo College.

She now hopes to attend the Adult School’s cosmetology program, or study business at Cabrillo.

“I feel like a new person,” she said. “I woke up today and I thought, ‘wow, I can finally move on and look forward to what’s coming.’ I’ve been wanting it for so long, and feel really proud and really relieved it’s done.”

Graduate Jorbelit Ribcon Juarez, who earned her high school diploma, said the school “has been a very good school.”

“I feel a great sense of accomplishment today,” she said. “To graduate after four years is something so special for me and my family.”

Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian  Watsonville, Aptos, Santa Cruz Adult Education graduates file into the Mello Center.

The school was founded in 1928 as an Evening High School. Since then the  school has expanded to add Aptos, Watsonville and, most recently, Santa Cruz to their banner.

Thursday’s ceremony handed diplomas in a wide range of fields, including citizenship awards, pre-apprenticeship, Cosmetology, administrative medical assistant, certified nurse assistant, Clinical medical assistant, dental assistant, electrocardiogram technician, pharmacy technology, G.E.D./HiSET, and high school diplomas.

Also claiming his high school diploma, Jesse Guzman said, “I definitely feel proud today — I’m very excited. I mean, 11 years later and here I am. It’s better late than never. I’m heading off to college now. If you put your mind to it, you can get it done.”

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Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. More recently Good Times & Press Banner. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.



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