The young man who had to wear braces on his legs when he was learning to walk crossed the stage to a standing ovation.
Hilfiker, who participated in the high school band's percussion section and the Imperial Valley honors band, directed the band in its last song, "Pachenga."
"Not only was he an outstanding band student and music student, he is one I would consider an outstanding example for life itself," said Holtville High band director Lendal Macon.
"He's the type of student you wish every student was like," said Macon.
"He is a fine young Christian boy who makes God a part of his life daily," Macon added.
He added, "He is an example for others to follow. He is one of the finest young men I've ever had, and he will definitely be missed."
The ceremony continued, often interrupted by stray beach balls bouncing around the graduates and Silly String punctuating the air.
Ruiz, co-valedictorian, encouraged her classmates to "Ask God for guidance in all we do."
She said, "Whatever we achieve will eventually rest tarnished."
She challenged her classmates to, "focus on things of eternal value, founded on love, because God is love."
Christopher Stergios, co-valedictorian, offered his thanks and farewells to those who supported him.
With the graduates giving tribute to their families and those teachers, faculty and staff who guided them through the years, Hilfiker said his family members have been his role models.
"My parents taught me the most to never give up," he said.
Hilfiker is on his way to Grossmont College in El Cajon in the fall and plans to eventually transfer to San Diego State University, where he wants to major in math or business.
"I've got to learn how to surf," he joked about moving to San Diego.
His goal is to become a professional athletic scout, a goal his high school football coach, Jim Sturgeon, thinks possible.
"He understands talent and that's hard to do. You have to have an eye for it," said Sturgeon.
Hilfiker is seeking a position with the San Diego Chargers, which Sturgeon says he will probably get.
"During the Chargers' (training) camp, Jeremy will work (with the Chargers), and then they'll work him into a position," said Sturgeon, who put him in contact with Mike Riley, the Chargers' head coach and a personal friend of Sturgeon.
"They see what Jeremy brings to the program," said Sturgeon.
"He's the type of individual that every time he's out, no matter what he's doing, it's 100 percent," added Sturgeon.
He added, "He makes everybody feel good that he comes around. He's so positive."
Sturgeon said Hilfiker will be working with the Grossmont football program as well.
"I am so proud of the opportunity to coach someone like Jeremy," said Sturgeon.
"You are getting the most all the time out of Jeremy. His effort is so much more than anyone else's. You can always count on him," he said.
Sturgeon added, "He's diligent, and shows persistence in everything he does .. .those are things we try to teach in high school athletics … when challenges come at you, like in life, you have to give it your all."
"He's tough, he's a competitor. He stands for a lot of things the kids try to do with their own lives … he's a role model," added Sturgeon.
Calling him a "bold individual," Goodsell said, "As his basketball coach, I have appreciated Jeremy's inspirational presence on my teams."
"He contributes a positive attitude that is infectious among his teammates," said Goodsell.
Hilfiker said, "I think God has me here for a reason. Every day I learn something new about myself and why God put me here."
He said after seeing someone with severe cerebral palsy, "I consider myself lucky. God did have a blessing for me."
Hilfiker added, "The greatest thing about having this is to never underestimate the heart of a champion. Someone might have cerebral palsy, but inside, it depends on the heart."
Staff Writer Laura MacKenzie can be reached at 337-3442.