By PETER DAY
LUCERNE VALLEY • For Lucerne Valley High School class of 2014 valedictorian Thania Torres, the pursuit of excellence taught lessons no book could teach.
“I didn’t know any English at all when I came here, and I was really scared,” Torres told several hundred who packed Brian Walker Gymnasium Friday evening to celebrate the graduation of 43 seniors. “I tried to hide behind the head of other students.”
A native of Mexico, her family moved to Lucerne Valley 10 years ago.
“I didn’t know how to do the homework. I would ask my mom if we could go back to Mexico.”
Torres, who will attend Victor Valley College and pursue a degree in the medical field, shared the simple secret of her eventual success: “I worked very hard at everything I did. I never took less than my best.”
Principal Patricia Courtney presided over the graduation ceremony and presented the class. Jim Harvey, president of the Lucerne Valley Unified School District’s governing board, formally accepted the class with LVUSD Superintendent Suzette Davis shaking each graduate’s hand, accompanied by a warm hug.
As students received their diplomas, a photo collage slide show was shown with their words spoken by teacher Nancy Monson.
Of the 43, the majority of the grads — 32 — are planning on either attending college or going into the military.
Courtney surprised longtime teacher/coach Earl Johnson, who retired at the end of the school year, with a touching photo tribute.
“Thank you for being our coach, teacher and friend,” Courtney said.
History teacher John Wortham, who the students voted to serve as their graduation ceremony guest speaker, quoted “The Man In The Arena,” a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt in France in 1910.
“The credit goes to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly and who errs and fails, and is sometimes victorious,” an excerpt of Roosevelt’s speech read by Wortham. “But when he fails, at least he does so daring greatly.”
Then Wortham, who was given a loud ovation when his name was announced, put Roosevelt’s words into plain language.
“You guys have gotten here,” Wortham said. “You’ve accomplished that goal. Now accomplish the next goal.”
Telling a story of a once frail girl he knew, Wortham also encouraged the graduates to hold onto their dreams. Despite doubters — admittedly Wortham included himself — the girl pursued her dream to climb Mt. Everest. Eventually, after falling short of her girl the first attempt, she made it to the top on her second try.
“Never give up,” Wortham said. “Never say die.”