High schools around SLO County send off 1,300 graduates

From Cambria to Arroyo Grande, four high schools and a variety of smaller programs celebrated the Class of 2015’s commencement on Thursday, sending more than 1,300 graduates off to the next phase in their lives.

The single largest contingent came from Arroyo Grande High School, where girls were the superstars of the year, according to Principal Conan Bowers.

“I’ve been here 13 years, and this is the first class where the girls have just dominated, both in the classroom and outside the classroom,” he said.

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Of the 495 graduates, Bowers said roughly 60 are leaving the school with grade point averages higher than a 4.0, and about 70 percent of those students are female. Eight out of the school’s Top 10 academic students are female, he said, including valedictorian Sheridan Rea. The class salutatorian is Omar Diab.

Outside the classroom, the Associated Student Body president and vice president, the school's only National Merit Scholar and its newspaper editor all are females, and the girls’ varsity sports teams dominated their seasons, he said.

Bowers said that though they were outshone this year, the boys of the graduating class brought a “kindness and good spirit” to the school that would be missed.

“They are just a kind class,” he said. “It’s really a reflection of the Five Cities community.”

Approximately 160 students, or a third of the graduates, have committed to four-year colleges, Bowers said.

Atascadero High School

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At Atascadero High School, about 300 students received diplomas at the high school’s 94th commencement ceremony where Jack Fisher, with a 4.46 grade point average, was named valedictorian; and Alexander Cooley, with a 4.41 GPA, was salutatorian.

In addition, the class received a total of more than $178,000 in local scholarships and 12 students were members of the National Honor Society, which requires a minimum 3.85 GPA and more than 100 hours of community service each year, Principal E.J. Rossi said.

“I have been asked a lot recently, ‘What will you miss most about being principal?’” said Rossi, who was overseeing his final graduation before becoming the Atascadero district’s assistant superintendent of educational services. “Without a doubt, it is you, the students. I get to see you excel on the field, the court, or the mat, shine on the stage and in class, and shower each other with love and support throughout the day and across campus.”

Morro Bay High School

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Morro Bay High School sent off 184 graduates at its commencement ceremony — 87 percent of whom are college bound.

Of those attending college, 56 percent will be starting at Cuesta College.

The school’s 2015 valedictorian is Ellis Vavra, and the salutatorian is Amanullah Bhatti.

“The Class of 2015 represents all the good things about Morro Bay High School: persistent, positive, tolerant and driven,” said Principal Kyle Pruitt. “They are an exceptional representation of what we hope our seniors will become at the end of their high school journey.”

At the school’s Senior Tribute event, a total of $176,000 in local scholarships was awarded.

Coast Union High School

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On Thursday afternoon in Cambria, the graduating class of 49 seniors enjoyed what valedictorian Ariel West called “a day when we all stand together for the last time and let the ice water of reality wash away our senioritis.”

Being a relatively small school, Coast Union High School had the luxury of making its graduation ceremony more personal than at many other high schools.

The day included a slide presentation showing every graduating senior as a very young child, followed by another more recent photo. Each student was introduced to the audience in the Coast Union gym with a short biography.

Class President Gehrig Kniffen, who delivered the welcome address, declared, “We will be the class that is talked about for years to come.”

Other addresses were given by salutatorian Toby Lyons, Superintendent Victoria Schumacher and Principal Jonathan Sison. Seniors Logan Hodges and Chase Tatham teamed up on the farewell address.

Graduating seniors received a total of $92,550 in scholarship money from 51 donors.

Alternative schools

In San Luis Obispo, the vast majority of Pacific Beach High School’s 42 graduates are heading to Cuesta College, Principal Andy Marinello said.

During the ceremony, each student received a short introduction from their adviser — one of the school’s four teachers who also serve as school counselors and advocate for the students.

“Every single one of them has a totally unique story,” Marinello said of the students.

Collectively, this year’s graduating class received $27,650 in scholarships, he said.

In addition, about 60 students graduated Thursday from San Luis Obispo County’s court and community schools.

During a ceremony at Cuesta College, students received their high school diplomas from schools around the county: Mesa View Community School in Arroyo Grande; Chalk Mountain Community School in Atascadero; Loma Vista Community School and Juvenile Court School, both in San Luis Obispo; and those participating in independent study at various sites.

“Many of the court and community school students have overcome personal challenges and obstacles and demonstrated remarkable persistence,” said Debi Hill, principal of the court and community schools.

In Atascadero, 58 students from Del Rio Continuation High School and 12 students from West Mall Alternative School graduated and were honored for their achievements, Principal Chris Balogh said.

“What most people don’t know is that many of our graduates are the first in their family to earn a diploma, that many have surpassed obstacles that would bury the average student, and many have worked far harder for this diploma than the typical student,” Balogh said. “Del Rio and West Mall students are risk-takers, are hard workers, and are students who don’t fit the traditional mold.”

Two students from West Mall are headed to four-year colleges — a first for the school. In addition, nearly 50 percent of Del Rio graduates are enrolled at Cuesta College, and many students from both schools have already completed at least one Cuesta class.

Olympia Rodriquez was awarded the Del Rio High School Principal’s Award of Merit; Allise Jeffries received the West Mall Alternative Principal’s Award of Merit. In addition, 14 students received local scholarships.

In Paso Robles, Liberty High School and Independence High School celebrated the graduation of 73 and 41 students, respectively.

Kaylin Oliver was the valedictorian chosen from the two schools, while Jessica Stamm was the salutatorian.

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