50 are first to graduate

Daily Pilot

Early College High School in Costa Mesa's first graduating class received its diplomas Thursday, but not before California State Supt. Of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell offered the 50 students a few words of advice.

"This is a day you're going to remember for the rest of your lives, and you're going to remember me for the next seven minutes," said O'Connell, speaking in the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College.

Woody Allen, he said, once told a graduation class, "You've been given a perfect world. Please don't screw it up."

Winston Churchill once said, "Never give up. Never give up."

And Bob Hope was once quoted as telling a bunch of seniors that as they prepare to leave the great halls and corridors of learning, that maybe they should reconsider.

"Don't go!" he said, citing Hope's funny line.

But go the seniors must into the great wide open of either the real world or higher education.

What makes them particularly special is that they were the first freshmen at the high school, which is located on Coastline Community College's Costa Mesa campus on Baker Street.

Like Orange Coast Middle College High School, whose last graduation ceremony ever took place on Wednesday, Early College allows its students the opportunity to earn college credits, and some of the students complete their associate's degrees by their fifth year.

Ramon Calderon, the high school's valedictorian, delivered an inspiring and somewhat humorous speech to the family and friends of the grads in the audience, saying he wasn't sure how to deliver a commencement speech.

"So it turns out," he says, "that Google doesn't have the answers to everything."

And that may be true, but Calderon didn't need any help.

He dazzled the crowd by reminding them of the school's formative and fledgling years, saying that the school might not have had a band at the time, and it might not have had 1,000 students. But it had character, and it had some of the smartest and funniest and most intelligent students around.

In four years, they became a close-knit group.

"In the end, it made us one big, fat, happy family," he said.

Principal Kathy Slawson marveled at the manner in which the students started out as children as freshmen, then matured into adults over four years.

"Do you remember the pancake breakfast we had at the very beginning of the school year?" she said. "Do you remember how nervous you were and how eager you were to make friends? Do you remember the tie-dyed shirts, your digital portfolios and the non-native plant project in the Back Bay?"

The students all laughed and nodded in agreement before they got up to walk the stage and receive their diplomas.

Mike Brion looked on proudly as his son, Austin Brion, received his diploma.

Next step for Austin Brion is heading to Orange Coast College, where he plans to take courses toward becoming a physician's assistant, a profession in high demand these days.

Ultimately, O'Connell told the students to "dream big, but continue to do the small things as well."

That's what matters most, he said.

"A commencement ceremony,'" he said, "is just that: It's a new beginning, and I know you're all going to succeed."

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