"I want to return to Niland to help better our community," said the 17-year-old Tanya, who is not looking to relax this summer but rather will leap into summer school at IVC to start working toward her goal.
As she put on her cap and gown before Thursday's graduation ceremony, Tanya struggled with mixed emotions over leaving Calipatria High.
"I'm nervous, scared and excited," she said. "I'm not ready yet. It went by too quick. But I'm excited because I get to start a new life in a different environment."
That sentiment was echoed by her fellow graduates, who during the ceremony shared moments of tears and laughter as they remembered the past four years of their lives and looked toward the challenges ahead.
Jacob Steele, 18, who has joined the Navy and wants to join the Navy SEAL unit, joked, "I don't want to graduate. I don't want to get a job. I like the high school life."
Laura Cortez, 18, said, "I'm excited and sad because I'm not going to see my friends."
Laura, like Tanya wants to return to the community after earning a degree in liberal studies. Her goal is to become a teacher in the Calipatria school district.
Class valedictorian Ryan Newton, 18, said he also feels the mixed emotions of his fellow students. Still, he said it is time to go out into the world and try to be a success.
He plans to attend University of California, Santa Barbara and major in business with the goal of owning his own business or rising to the top of a company.
Newton said he is proud of himself, that it feels good to have made his parents proud along with everyone who has helped him along his educational journey.
During the graduation ceremony, district Superintendent James Hanks gave credit to the graduating class for its spirit and hard work, in particular, during a difficult time in the country.
He said in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the seniors at Calipatria High listened to the words spoken by President Bush and remained focused on moving ahead.
Hanks also credited the class for facing the hardship of having to move their classes to the old Fremont middle school campus as the high school is set to be renovated.
"You have met the challenges and cleared each hurdle," Hanks told the graduates.
School board Trustee Glenn Sampson, in an interview before the start of the ceremony, said there may be surprises ahead for the students, but their years in high school have given them the tools they need to succeed.
Tanya agreed, adding the school has a lot to offer students if they are willing to get involved and participate.
She said if she had any parting advice to students in lower grades, it is to get involved.
It is advice she has followed.
The list of her activities includes playing volleyball, basketball, taking part in Friday Night Live, Future Homemakers of America, FFA, the Young Artistic Minds program and the AVID program, and the list goes on.
Tanya also worked at two jobs: for the United Food Center and for the Steps of Success program in Niland.
She takes pride in the work she has done with the Steps of Success program, which is geared toward helping young people ages 14 to 21 through job-training and other services.
"I feel it's helped a lot of people who had no direction," said Tanya, who added she enjoys helping other youths through the program.
Direction has never been a problem for Tanya.
She has known since she was much younger that she wants to be a nurse. Park of her inspiration has come from her mother, Rosetta Saiza, a certified nurse's assistant.
Saiza said Thursday her daughter is ready to accomplish anything she wants.
"She is going to make something out of her life," Saiza said. "Since she was in kindergarten she always has said she wanted to be a nurse. She is going to make a good one because she cares."
Tanya said she wants to thank all who have helped her to this point in her life, including her teachers at Grace Smith Elementary School in Niland, and even the bus drivers who, she said, make it possible for Niland kids to participate in events at the high school.
"I'm thankful for all the help everyone had given me," she said. "Hopefully I'll return all the help they have given me."
>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.