Yesenia Hernandez said a year of distance learning was difficult to say the least. 

She said at times it was easy to lose focus while studying without a teacher physically present.

However, Hernandez said the fear of not graduating was enough for her to buckle down and focus on finishing her high school career and move on to Yuba College in the fall. 

On Thursday, Hernandez was one of 356 River Valley High School seniors to graduate in person during two separate commencement ceremonies on campus. 

River Valley Principal Lee McPeak said as a part of the guidelines surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the school needed to adjust its plan to allow for the most traditional ceremony possible. 

“The main difference being two ceremonies instead of one,” McPeak said. “Students and families deserve an in-person experience.  It’s the right thing to do for this most deserving class of students.” 

The students were grateful to be on campus for graduation. 

“We made it through a challenge,” senior Natalie Day said. “I am grateful to have a graduation.” 

Day, who will attend Yuba College in the fall training to become an X-ray technician, said it’s important for all high school students to keep a positive frame of mind despite what life throws at them.

Dominique Mendoza, who is off to basic training in the U.S. Army in three weeks, said in times like what has been experienced during the pandemic she made it through in part because she stood up for what she believed in. 

It was one of the reasons why she decided to enlist in the military. 

“For me it’s about protecting the people I love and to protect our freedoms,” Mendoza said. 

Mendoza aims to become a chaplain in the military. 

McPeak said the class of 2021 featured six valedictorians and seven salutatorians. The valedictorians were Tejvir Singh, Alexis Norton, Sureen Kaur Heer, Katherine Kha-Han Lim, Jack Singh Thiara and Casey Ann Trutna. 

The salutatorians were Rahul Budhiraja, Bradley Paul Buzzini, Maxwell Archer Darling, Carlos Adrian Diaz, Simarpreet Kaur, Madison Marie Langley and Emma Nicole West. 

Regardless of their final standing, MePeak said he is proud of each one of the seniors for making it through and graduating in person. 

“It’s the way it should be … our students and families deserve this experience to be in person,” McPeak said. “This night is about students and families celebrating all that they have accomplished over the last four years.” 

Hernandez said despite all of her previous distance learning challenges, she is taking in a breath of fresh air and relief.

“It feels so great to accomplish this four-year commitment,” Hernandez said. 

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