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No Speeches In Front Of Big Crowds, These High School Valedictorians Still Have Something To Say

High school valedictorians Jorge Nuñez, Carlos Sanchez, Emiliano Corona and A...

Credit: Photos courtesy of the Nuñez, Sanchez, Corona and Dogra families

Above: High school valedictorians Jorge Nuñez, Carlos Sanchez, Emiliano Corona and Arushi Dogra in undated photos.

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The coronavirus pandemic has laid waste to end-of-the-year events for high school seniors. So valedictorians will have to impart their wisdom online.

Aired: May 27, 2020 | Transcript

When he started his senior year at Hoover High in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood, Jorge Nuñez expected he would be named valedictorian. But he never thought he’d have to read his speech over Zoom.

“The speech I’m giving you today wasn’t what I had planned, but I still feel very honored to speak to you,” Nuñez says in his speech. “At times like these it’s hard to see the positives in our lives and celebrate our accomplishments.”

Nuñez, who will graduate with a 4.59 GPA, is one of the more than a hundred top students in San Diego County who won’t be able to deliver their valedictory speech in front of a throng of people in an auditorium or stadium. But he and others KPBS spoke to are by and large adopting a what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger approach.

“We have cultivated a culture of unity and strength,” Nuñez’s speech continues. “That will not only help us overcome this pandemic but one that will help us achieve our future goals.”

His hard work earned him a spot at UC Berkeley, where he’ll study electrical engineering and computer science as a first-generation college student.

Reported by Joe Hong , Video by Andi Dukleth

Carlos Sanchez

Carlos Sanchez was honored when he found out he was valedictorian of Sweetwater High in National City. But he says getting the news during an online learning session was awkward.

“When you go into a meeting with your teacher in class, the teacher would congratulate you while everyone else is on mute,” said Sanchez, who will be studying biochemistry at Harvey Mudd College in the fall. “You’re just like, thank you to the teacher.”

Emiliano Corona

In North County at Fallbrook High School, Valedictorian Emiliano Corona is graduating with a 4.4 GPA.

“Friends, family and class of 2020, my name is Emiliano Corona, and I know what you’re thinking. Yes, that is my last name, and no, the virus was not named after me,” his speech reads. “However, I do understand if there was some confusion regarding the headline ‘Corona takes top spot.’”

Corona is headed to Stanford to study political science and economics. He says it’s unfortunate he won’t have a full graduation ceremony but considers it a small sacrifice in the context of the pandemic.

“I know that in reality, we have to keep everyone safe and putting a lot of people in a crowded space isn’t gonna work at this time,” he said.

The grandson of immigrants from Mexico, Corona said the support for minority students on the Stanford campus is what sealed his decision.

“It’s just the idea of seeing someone that represents you in a place that you could never see yourself,” he said. “That’s really empowering to my family and how I view the world.”

Arushi Dogra

Arushi Dogra is the valedictorian at Del Norte High School in the Poway Unified School District. She and her friends were sad so many end-of-the-year events were canceled. But Dogra says the journey was well worth it.

“In high school, I learned to take a lot of initiative by myself,” she said. “Whether it be clubs that I started or which class to take, those decisions were completely mine, and it helped me with decision making.”

She’s graduating with a 4.59 GPA and will be attending Yale where she hopes to study microbiology. Looking ahead, she’s anxious about being surrounded by equally accomplished students. But there’s a lot to be excited about.

“I’m excited to meet people that have the same interests as me and have the same experiences as me,” Dogra said. “It’s definitely intimidating. But it’s also exciting, in a way.”

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

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Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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