Jake Harrell and Jalen Cropper stood in the shadows of the massive backstage area of the Saroyan Theatre.
Both were graduating from Hallmark Charter School on June 8 with 41 other classmates. Everybody had their gowns on and their mortarboards perfectly positioned on their heads. They were about to queue up to head over for the class of 2019’s official group portrait in the theater’s brightly lit gathering area.
Harrell said he’d been backstage before, for his eighth-grade promotion four years earlier.
Hallmark director Alfred Sanchez and his staff made sure everything was perfect — from the mood of their students to the minute-by-minute schedule that included multiple speeches and performances that evening in a quiet downtown Fresno.
“Some outstanding kids,” Sanchez said, taking a breather. “Just great human beings.”
Harrell heads to Fresno State to play baseball. Cropper joins Bulldogs football. And volleyball standout Mackenzie Jennings will play for California State University San Marcos, the Cougars.
Jennings explained a little of her reasoning for choosing San Marcos. “I visited other schools,” she said. “And I never felt at home. The moment I met the coach (Andrea Leonard), I felt at home.”
Jennings said she immediately made connections with her new teammates and enjoyed their company. “When I think of everything I wanted in a school program, that was it. Smaller campus.”
And that jibed with what she’s been familiar with having attended Hallmark, she said.
Tess Travis found herself at the back of the line as she and her fellow Hallmark seniors headed into the theater to walk down either side of the auditorium and up onto the stage. She said Hallmark isn’t like normal high school. The charter school on Ninth Street in Sanger has classrooms and teachers but allows students greater flexibility in scheduling.
“It’s family,” Travis said. “Teachers, you can tell. People here really love what they do.”
Travis said she wants to be a psychologist, specializing in treating teens and young adults. “To help people,” she said. “I went through a tough time. I want to do what people couldn’t do for me.”
Amy Tarazon was next to last and just in front of Travis. As the students in front of them disappeared into the auditorium for the ceremony, she began to show hesitation. But she wasn’t scared. “I’m nervous about falling,” she said. She and the rest of the class had to navigate numerous stairs and an downward grade, and Tarazon wore some pretty high heels.
Dylan Reimer, one of the tennis players who contributed to two section championships for the Apaches, spoke to his class about hard work and the importance of getting it right after first getting it wrong. “I’ve had my own experience with failure,” he said. He said sometimes he wanted to quit. But he didn’t.
He kept up with his music, learning jazz arrangements. He said the genre’s treatment of notes “seems impossible” but works. “Jazz is not about following the rules,” he said. “It challenges our definition of right and wrong.”
And Reimer ended with this comment. “I wish you all the best in your future failures,” he said.
In his address Micah Roberts quoted Martin Luther King Jr. on the importance of moving forward. “Each one of us has a unique story of how we got to Hallmark,” he said.
Roberts attended since first grade. “I will continue to stay in touch because that’s what family members do,” he said. “There are many unknowns we will face.”
Lauren Parisi played the trombone. Joshua Robbins sang a broadway tune. The 12th grade ensemble played “Ain’t Misbehavin."
Matthew Mongomery, in his address, said he hated speeches. “If you can’t embrace change, give it a hug every once in a while,” he said. Mongomery said he doesn’t like change and mentioned he has eaten toast and chocolate milk for breakfast every day for years.
Bailee Poole, in her address, quoted a teacher. “Your happiness means very little to me,” she said, explaining the intent to mean that teachers expect the best.
“I’m confident the unique qualities at Hallmark have prepared us for the future,” she said. Poole, a water polo player for the Apaches, plans to attend Fresno Pacific University. “We are now high school graduates with no reputation, no past, only the future to look forward to.”