‘We made it:’ Enumclaw graduates

Family, friends celebrated at the expo center last Monday

From the podium of the graduation stage, class speaker Jessie Escobedo-Hernandez admitted that he hadn’t expected to make it there.

But “we made it,” Escobedo-Hernandez said. “We here.”

Wearing a wry grin, Escobedo-Hernandez told the story of an unusual year with humor and confidence.

“I remember this time last year, everybody was saying ‘Poor seniors. I feel so bad for them,’ ” he said. “But look at us. It got even worse. We missed the majority of our year, and didn’t get that real senior experience. But it’s all good. There’s a reason we were the ones who had to go through this. … We pushed through. We were all trapped in our houses for months. We were forced to do school online for months. And look at where you’re at. Sitting here, in front of me, in your cap and gowns.”

Around 300 Enumclaw High School students received their diplomas on June 14 at the Enumclaw Expo Center, as the sun set both literally and figuratively over the class of 2021’s high school career.

Amid a decline in COVID-19 case rates and loosening restrictions on public gatherings, the school district elected to hold an in-person outdoor graduation. The show was livestreamed to online viewers, too.

Unlike White River High School’s graduation just two days before, Enumclaw graduated their entire class in one ceremony. Legions of parents, family and friends spread out across the lawn at the Expo Center, cheering and hollering with each name read.

Josie Ambur, the other class speaker, said her peers should be proud of the last year.

“None of us got here without hard work,” Ambur said. “I admire the late nights you spent studying and doing homework so you could be here today. We did it. We made it.”

“Stay weird,” she counseled her fellow graduates, because life is more fun that way, and people don’t really care what you’re doing anyway.

Even after 30 years in education, Enumclaw School District Cultural Support Program Director Sui-Lan Ho’okano still cries and feels a blend of joy and loss every time she watches her students graduate.

“I don’t even think there’s English words to express the joy that you feel inside when you watch all of these students accomplish something they’ve been working so hard for, for pretty much their entire life,” she said.

Cristian Perez said it felt “amazing” to be graduating. He’s headed for nursing school, a path inspired by his experience with a medical condition when he was young that required a liver transplant.

Oscar Riestra Jr. said the last year has been a rollercoaster and he’s thankful for everything he’s been able to overcome.

“I accomplished a big step that a lot of people didn’t think I was going to do,” Riestra Jr. said. “And I did it not to show them wrong, but just to prove to myself that I could do it.”

His next step is starting a career in the carpentry industry.

“I’m glad I made it, and all my boys made it here with me too,” Riestra Jr. said. “We all walked in together, and we’re all walking out together.”

Aldo Orozco, earning both his high school diploma and an associate’s degree from Green River College, said it felt unreal to be graduating.

Juggling high school and college classes wasn’t easy, but he’s glad he’s been able to experience college life before many of his peers. He’s looking at going back to school for mechanical engineering next.

“I was really into cars, even as a young kid,” Orozco said. “It kind of just went from there.”

Kitsu Portillo Guerra is in the first generation of her family to graduate in the United States and go to college here. Her family moved from Mexico about six years ago, where her parents graduated and earned their degrees.

“It’s like a dream come true,” she said. “It’s been crazy, a lot of challenges, but I’m glad that I could keep up with school and keep fighting for my dreams no matter what.”

Next up for Portillo Guerra is college, where she wants to study dentistry, and a mission trip for the Church of Latter-day Saints.

Bridnie Maratita, meanwhile, called the prospect of graduation “surreal.” She’s looking forward to starting a fashion and clothing business.

Maratita moved around a lot and has only been at Enumclaw since her junior year, but she said the school has been great and very welcoming.

“I wish that I was here four years ago, but I’m just glad that everyone has helped me out throughout the year,” Maratita said.

Photo by Alex Bruell 
Two students share a happy moment as they walk off the stage at graduation.

Photo by Alex Bruell Two students share a happy moment as they walk off the stage at graduation.