If she were to give advice to other students facing the challenge of learning English, she would say, "Try to speak with others without fear. Then it will be easy."
She added making friends makes a difference. That was another of her goals — to make as many friends from as many cultures as she could.
In a large graduating class representing BUHS, Desert Valley High School and other Brawley alternative education programs, there were many stories — many memories and mixed feelings as they ended four years of study and looked to new challenges.
Brooke Pace, 17, one of two salutatorians, said she is ready to move on.
"It's time," she said, while adding it is sad to see students part ways.
Brooke plans to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, to study English, but she said she may decide to change that major. She added her time at BUHS has prepared her for what is to come.
Aisha Admani, 18, one of two valedictorians, said the teachers and staff at BUHS have prepared her for the future.
"A lot of people put down our school, but we have awesome teachers," she said.
She said of her feelings, "I'm overwhelmed with joy that it's over."
Aisha said she plans to study biology at the University of California, San Diego with the goal of becoming a doctor.
Jesus Armenta, 19, said he is proud of himself for reaching this point in his life.
"I knew I could accomplish what I had to accomplish," he said, adding he plans to attend the Universal Technical Institute to study automotive technology.
Raymond Revuelta, 17, said he is dedicating his diploma to his mother.
"I feel good because I finally made my mom proud," Raymond said.
Superintendent Garth Isom said there is much the 2002 graduating class can accomplish.
"We have a great group of kids who have really met our standards," he said, adding the students have to "set goals for themselves because they have the ability."
In an emotionally charged speech, senior counselor Jeff Wise said 106 students were graduating with honors, students had been accepted to 50 different universities and into all branches of the military. Like Isom, he told the students there is much they have accomplished and much they still have to do.
Maria said she knew she could accomplish a lot. It just took her a year to get over her fears, leave the tears behind and get on with the work ahead.
She credits her first English teacher at BUHS, Erlinda Eaton, for setting her on the right course to develop her English skills and gain confidence.
"It seems like she gave her life up for us," Maria said. "She was like our mother."
Eaton said she is proud of what Maria has accomplished.
"From the first day I met her, you could tell she was focused on her education," Eaton said, adding Maria has become a role model for other students.
Eaton credited Maria for spending her days after school working in the tutoring program to help other students develop their language skills. She also helped students with other courses such as math and worked with students learning Spanish.
Lead BUHS counselor Betty Hardy said of Maria, "She really had to work hard, but she never complained. She had to overcome obstacles, but never did she have a negative thought. She always had a smile on her face."
Hardy said, "She made a big difference in our tutoring center.
Maria said she gained a great deal from tutoring students, including a career path focused on helping others. Maria said she wants to study psychology with the goal of becoming a psychologist and perhaps returning to Mexico to help people there.
But that's down the line.
For now, she looks forward to working hard at IVC and then moving on to a four-year university.
"Now that I have the opportunity, I will take advantage of that opportunity," she said.
>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.