She continued, "It makes me very proud that the students have accomplished their goal of graduating from high school. It means new beginnings for them as they go off to college or work."
As 18-year-old Katie Strahm waited anxiously with her friends for the ceremony to begin, the tiny yellow ribbon she wore pinned over her heart was barely discernible against her yellow cap and gown.
Katie, co-valedictorian of the class of 2002, was wearing the ribbon in memory of her brother Aaron, who took his own life in fall 2000.
In the grim aftermath of her brother's death Katie, almost singlehandedly used her grief constructively by establishing a yellow ribbon suicide prevention club at her school.
The club has some 40 members and meets frequently over the lunch hour at school as well as taking it's message to other Valley schools in the form of a short play.
"It's so wonderful because there are jocks in our club, there are the kids who aren't so cool, kids who are really into their studies, band members — people from every possible clique and it's so neat to see them working together and talking together," Katie said.
Katie's hope is that schools Valleywide will form their own yellow ribbon suicide prevention clubs.
Going to UCSD in the fall, Katie thinks she will probably major in psychology and become either a private practice grief counselor or a high school counselor.
Katie shared the honor of being valedictorian with Jamie Larson. Courtney Ward was salutatorian.
Interviewed shortly before the seniors moved onto the football field where the graduation would take place, 18-year-old Samuel Massey talked about his four years at Holtville High.
"It was hard work and I did a lot of it in those four years but it's been wonderful. Holtville High gives us a lot of chances to do a lot of extracurricular activities and it's a strong community."
Samuel, a proud band member, observed, "I feel that band is a program that is really overlooked but it is important and I'm very proud to have been part of it for four years."
Excited and anxious to join his fellow graduates, Samuel said he had a large group of supporters in the audience waiting to see him graduate.
"My whole family is here, my mom and my dad and my stepmom and I've got friends here who came down from San Diego — people I've known all my life."
Undeniably proud of all the graduating students, Zayas is quick to point to their academic achievements.
"We've got 34 seniors going on to a four-year college in the fall, 50 kids will be enrolling in a two-year college and we've got another six going to a technical college in Arizona," Zayas said before adding, "And we had 22 seniors with an overall GPA of 3.5 and above."
>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or firstname.lastname@example.org