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June 10, 2023

St. Francis High valedictorians reflect, look ahead | Grads 2021

WATSONVILLE—St. Francis High School (SFHS) was a big part of Maureen Kelly’s life even before she enrolled as a student there.

Her father was a basketball coach for the school, and her older siblings had all attended. So when she arrived, it was like coming to a second home.

“And once I got here… it was better than I imagined,” she said. “The teachers are absolutely fantastic. And the people I’ve met here are going to stay in my life forever. It’s been a fantastic place to experience and I’m going to miss it.”

Kelly is this year’s SFHS valedictorian, along with fellow classmate Caeli Tani.

Tani admitted that her time at the school didn’t start out as smoothly—but she has grown to love it over the years. 

“My freshman year was hard. I didn’t know as many people on campus,” Tani said. “But now, after four years here… I’m definitely going to miss it. This place is great.”

Both students acknowledged social studies instructor John Ausman, who is also the school’s varsity football coach. Kelly called him “the absolute best person, teacher and coach you could have at a school.”

“He knows exactly how to teach students,” she said. “He’s entertaining and relatable. I’ve never liked history… but he has made it my favorite class… I know all the football guys really respect him. And he’s just so kind. He gives it to you straight—he’s that person you need to give you advice.”

Tani also expressed appreciation for English teacher Britney Hill.

“She’s a wonderful person. She can be harsh with grading… but at the same time, she doesn’t really feel like just a teacher,” Tani said. “[Recently] I stood outside class with her and just had a 30 minute conversation about all sorts of things. You can just come to her with anything. You can talk with her regardless if you’re an A student or an F student—she cares about you.”

Kelly and Tani both have plans to enter four-year universities in the fall. Kelly will be attending Purdue University in Indiana, where she plans to study kinesiology with a major in nutrition. For the past couple of years, she has been working under the tutelage of SFHS athletic trainer Nicole Sutherland.

In addition to her studies, Kelly looks forward to traveling to new places, including parts of Europe and Costa Rica. 

“I’m a big adventurer and explorer,” she said. “I want to try skydiving—just big things like that, to get the most out of life.”

Tani has been accepted to UC Santa Cruz. She hopes to study psychology, but says she will probably take a few classes and see what she wants to do from there.

“I’m looking into being a psychologist or maybe a pediatrician. But regardless of my occupation, what I just want to do is help people,” she said.

Tani is also looking forward to traveling and having some time to enjoy her hobbies.

“I’m a very crafty person—I like to croquet, I like cooking and baking… and singing,” she said. “I’m excited to have some time to enjoy my hobbies.”

Kelly and Tani joined the SFSH Class of 2021 to receive their diploma on May 29.

Tani called the feeling of graduating as both “surreal” and exciting.

Added Kelly: “It’s bittersweet. For the last few years this has been my home, the place I’ve looked forward to going to every day. But also, it’s been four years… so I’m ready to move on, ready to go and see what else I have in store for my life.”

Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


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