s this years group

Rachelle Rodriguez, from left, heads to Stanford; Daniel Ornelas goes to UC Berkeley; Cristian Hernandez travels to Maine for Colby; Jude Groft has his sights on the beach for Cal Poly; and Madalyn Berry is a Smittcamp scholar at Fresno State.

Jude Groft put on his Cal Poly hat after formally signing for his scholarship with the San Luis Obispo university.

“I’m going to wear it the rest of the day,” he said. “The rest of the year.”

That was about when firefighter Capt. Rory Smith, Groft’s regional occupational program, or ROP, instructor, walked up, shook his hand and disappeared. Then Jorge Pena, his football coach, did the same. “Congrats,” they both said.

And they meant it. 

Sanger High recognized its scholarship recipients May 14 in its library, live streaming the event online for students in other schools within Sanger Unified to watch. In addition to Groft who heads to California Polytechnic State University, those honored included Madalyn Berry, going to Fresno State as a Smittcamp scholar; Cristian Hernandez, going to Colby College in Waterville, Maine; Rachelle Rodriguez, going to Stanford University; and Daniel Ornelas, going to the University of California Berkeley. Mackenzie Jenkins of Hallmark Charter wasn’t able to attend. She was honored for receiving a scholarship to California State University San Marcos for volleyball. She played for Sanger High.

Principal Dan Chacon praised the students, their teachers and parents. “I wish you guys well,” Chacon said, wearing his trademark cowboy hat. “Remember your purpose and be true to that purpose.” 

Superintendent Adela Jones summed up her thoughts afterward. “I’m so proud of their accomplishments,” she said. “Really proud of them.”

Groft plans to major in forestry and become a firefighter, eventually attaining the rank of captain. “He has that no quit attitude,” Chacon said. 

Rachel Groft, Jude’s mom, said she was proud. “Oh gosh. How do you put words to it?” she said. “He’s just worked incredibly hard his whole education career. He’s had an amazing year. He’ll be a difference maker.”

Groft said he chose to apply to Cal Poly because “they have a really good forestry program. (And) it’s by the beach.” And of the hat, he said he’s never taking it off. “I’ll sleep in it.”

Berry, who played golf for the Apaches and was one of the leads in the recent production of “Singing in the Rain,” said she plans to pursue a career in law. “The whole criminal justice system has interested me,” she said. “I want to be a criminal prosecutor.”

Berry’s advice to others was straightforward. “Never give up,” she said. “Just keep pushing and you’ll succeed in what you want to do.”

Hernandez said Colby, the 12th oldest liberal arts college in the country, has a “small and likable campus,” adding, “I’m happy for the opportunity.” The college sits on 714 acres on Mayflower Hill in central Maine, and the campus overlooks downtown Waterville and the Kennebec River Valley.

“I worked hard,” Hernandez said, explaining how he qualified for the scholarship. “I pushed the boundaries. I took the hardest AP classes. It took a lot of late nights and a lot of hard work. I’m just glad I was able to do it.”

Hernandez plans to major in environmental science and biology and seeks someday to become director of the Environmental Protection Agency. “Climate change is real,” he said.

Rodriguez said she plans to pursue studies in international relations, possibly working temporarily as a journalist or “some kind of project managing. It all sounds fascinating.” She advised others to “find the proper motivation” while seeking their calling or college. 

“I don’t have the highest scores,” she said. “If students find their purpose and what they’re passionate about and pursue it, (they can find success.)”

She is also a speaker at this year’s Sanger High graduation. She described her topic. “Even though we have a bit of fear going forward, you should be aware. This fear won’t go away. But it should motivate us. And be consistently aware.”

Jon Tillotson, assistant principal, said Rodriguez was a good choice for the graduation speaking gig. “As a writer and a speaker, she’s a cut above,” he said. “She’s a pretty bright kid.”

And of Groft wearing the hat, Tillotson said, “He can wear it on campus. We give him permission.”

Ornelas plans to major in civil engineering and “go to underdeveloped countries to improve living conditions.” He said he believes the group is Engineering Without Borders USA, which describes itself as harnessing “the skills of engineers to tackle the challenges that keep the world’s poorest people from living healthy productive lives.”

Ornelas said he got the scholarship by applying to the University of California system. “I was invited to an interview, and I got it,” he said. 

His older sister Krystal Toles said she’s known since he was little that her brother had a superior intellect. “He’s really smart,” she said. “He would do puzzles at 3 upside down.” And she said without a doubt, he’ll be a success.

Librarian Sara Smith created a wall with a map of the country showing with push pins and string where every student, or at least most of them, is going to college. All their names are up on a wall. Tillotson said she does it every year.

The reporter can be contacted by email at nemethfeatures@gmail.com or by phone at the Herald at (559) 875-2511.

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