Fifty-three Pico neighborhood graduates of Santa Monica High School and Olympic High School were honored Thursday, June 26, at the Virginia Avenue Park Teen Center in a “Next Steps” reception celebrating the graduates’ success.
Teen Center Supervisor Carla Fantozzi emceed the event, which featured remarks by SMMUSD School Board president Oscar de la Torre and Teen Center workers Keith “Buck” Neal and Luis Gallego. Neal urged the graduates to “be prepared” and “be open-minded” as they move on to the next steps of their lives, and Gallego stressed the importance of goals, saying there were three kinds of people: “those who make things happen, those who let things happen, and those who don’t know what happened.”
In an emotionally moving moment, de la Torre presented an honorary diploma to Erminda Lopez, the mother of Eddie Lopez, an honor student and baseball player who would have graduated from Samohi this year had he not been killed in a February 2006 drive-by shooting. In a tearful acceptance of the diploma, she told the graduates, “We should be motivated to follow his [Eddie’s] dreams because those are our dreams.”
In connection with the presentation of the honorary diploma, graduating Samohi senior Nivia Alvarado read reflections on Eddie that had been collected from his classmates before the ceremony.
The Teen Center program at Virginia Avenue Park provides students with homework assistance, employment and college counseling, and a place to hang out. The success of the program is evidenced by the fact that at least 44 of the 53 graduating seniors are bound for college – Santa Monica College, U.C. Berkeley, and Smith College, among others.
Each of the graduates attending the June 26 program was given a backpack filled with items that would be helpful to them as they move on to the next steps of their lives. The items were contributed by a variety of donors, including Chrysalis, Jewish Vocational Services, Norm’s Restaurant, 02 Max gym, Pacific Park, the Chamber of Commerce, and the City’s police and fire departments, library, and Big Blue Bus.