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Sonora Elementary School salutes alumni as they graduate from high school

Costa Mesa’s Sonora Elementary School said both hello and goodbye Wednesday morning to graduating high school seniors it once taught.

“We are all living proof that you guys can truly accomplish anything and everything you want in life,” Costa Mesa High senior Katie Belmontes told current Sonora students.

“So never take anything for granted and enjoy your time with one another, because eventually everything does come to an end,” she said, choking up at the end of her statements.

Belmontes was joined in Wednesday’s event — known as the senior salute or grad walk — by other cap-and-gown-clad graduating seniors from Costa Mesa and Early College high schools who previously attended Sonora Elementary. The students were invited by parents and faculty.

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Costa Mesa’s graduation ceremony is Thursday; Early College’s was May 30.

The seniors gathered in a classroom before walking to the campus blacktop to address the current students. They stated their names, why it’s important to work hard in elementary school, the colleges they’re going to and explanations of medals and cords they were wearing.

Vanessa Rodriguez, who will attend Cal State Long Beach in the fall, said the senior salute gives younger students the perspective that they eventually will grow up and attend high school. She said she wished there had been a senior salute when she was attending Sonora so she could hear the advice that graduating seniors would have given her.

“We don’t let them feel alone,” Rodriguez said. “We were small. We used to play around, and now look at us. We’re almost young adults and starting a new chapter in our lives.”

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Sixth-grade teacher Susie Farnsworth said the senior salute provides a good example of what her students can be when they grow up. She said she taught eight or nine of the seniors in attendance Wednesday.

“The kids really connect to it. They realize the end point,” Farnsworth said. “I’m so proud of [the seniors]. … They were an amazing sixth-grade group and they’re amazing seniors and they’re going to be amazing adults and citizens.”

Emi Kamikihara, a Sonora fifth-grader, said the seniors’ speeches motivated her to cherish her moments at the school because one day she won’t be going there.

Her classmates Gianna Matian and Anne Rasmussen said the seniors made them more comfortable with the idea of leaving elementary school and making their way through middle and high school and college. Gianna said she was motivated to never give up.

Sonora’s senior salute began a few years ago as part of its affiliation with No Excuses University, a network of schools that focuses on the belief that all students have a right to be educated in a way that prepares them for college.

Four other schools in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District also are involved in No Excuses University.

Sonora Principal Christine Anderson, who is retiring, said she had seen a video in Texas that was similar to the senior salute and thought it was a great way to connect current students to Sonora alumni and to honor the former students for their accomplishments. The majority of alumni come from Costa Mesa High School, Anderson said, but others have come from schools in and out of the district. One year, she said, a senior attended from Saddleback High School in Santa Ana.

“I really think it’s a double-lens mirror,” said Costa Mesa High Principal Jacob Haley. “I think the graduates are seeing themselves back in that seat and I think vice versa.”

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The grad walk is done at all five elementary schools in the Costa Mesa High zone, including Davis, College Park, Paularino, Killybrooke and Sonora. Corona del Mar High School does a senior salute at Anderson, Harbor View, Lincoln, Eastbluff and Newport Coast elementary schools.

“We have a saying: ‘Make the family proud,’ ” Anderson said. “When [students] go on field trips, I often say that to them: ‘Make the family proud while you’re on your field trip!’ So that’s how I feel about these seniors. They make us very proud.”

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