Julio Robles couldn’t speak a full sentence in English when he moved to Moorpark from Mexico City four years ago.
But that didn’t stop the 18-year-old from aggressively pursuing his studies.
Thursday night, seated under the setting sun at the football stadium, Robles graduated from Moorpark High School with a 3.53 grade point average. He is the first in his family to complete high school.
When Robles came to Moorpark, he was tutored in English. His classes were taught in Spanish. But, Robles said, he wanted to learn the language faster and knew that immersion would be the key for him.
“It was hard in the beginning. I had to study every day,” he said. “I started to tell my teachers to put me in harder classes to learn more. At first they didn’t want to do it. They knew I didn’t know anything. Then they told me they wanted to see how I would do in those classes and if I did well, I could stay.”
Stay he did, practicing his English while studying for his advanced placement classes in math, science and history. When not studying at home, he watched television constantly to pick up English faster.
“Sometimes I start thinking first in English,” he said. “Iunderstand everything people say.”
Robles said his classwork was much harder in Mexico and beyond the language barriers, he doesn’t find his American schoolwork difficult.
“In Mexico, they push more in classes and are more strict in classes,” he explains. “Here, you get more help.”
Robles will join 210 other Moorpark graduates at Moorpark College this fall. He thinks he’d like to become an architect.
He’s also working on gaining his U.S. citizenship. Until then, he will have to work his way through school because the tuition is expensive for foreign students.
A recent $1,000 scholarship he won will help and he continues to pursue other scholarships; he does not qualify for financial aid.
All 399 graduating seniors shared the same major milestone with Robles, and almost 7,000 friends and family members gathered to celebrate.
What many may not know is first-year Principal Anna Merriman shared the same milestone.
Merriman assumed the duties of head high school administrator in September and said she eagerly looked forward to her first graduation as a principal.
“This is such an incredible class of kids and they have welcomed me to this school beyond my wildest dreams,” she said.
Last-minute details flustered those in charge as parking and seating were dealt with. But by the last strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the chaos cleared and in its wake were the seniors, accurately seated in the middle field of the stadium.
Former Moorpark Unified School District Superintendent Thomas Duffy spoke to the proud crowd overflowing the stadium stands, cheering and watching for their students.
And there was a lot to cheer. Almost 91 percent of this year’s class will move on to higher education or trade school.
Moorpark College will take the largest slice of the student body with 211 new enrollees. Twenty-one students will move on to other area community colleges.
Thirty-three will attend UC schools and 42 will attend CSU schools.
Beyond that, 56 students will attend private and out-of-state schools, including two students going to Harvard University and others going to Duke, Brown and Carnegie Mellon universities, USC, the U.S. Naval Academy and West Point.
Three foreign exchange students will return to Germany and the Czech Republic after spending their senior year in the states.
With 22 awards and scholarships, Ari Shaw, 18, led the group of 56 students who received full or partial scholarships for college.
Twenty students were named honor grads for maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout high school.
Nine students will step right into public service as they join the military. Eleven will find jobs and 13 said they were undecided.
— Jake Finch’s e-mail address is [email protected]