Taking full advantage of the opportunities

Published May 27, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - Jonathan Munoz was feeling confident. He'd long prepared for this moment. Earned the right to don that green cap and gown and all those colorful honor chords. He practiced his speech for the last time Thursday and wasn't worried then that his accent would get in the way as he feared four years ago when he first arrived from Mexico City.

The years at Gulf High School had brought him acceptance, he said as he faced his fellow classmates and the vast audience at the school's 84th commencement held in the EpiCenter at Calvary Worship Center on Friday evening.

"I thought it would be hard coming to a country where, let's face it, Mexicans are not considered top-notch," he said.

But the Class of 2007 turned out to be leaders who set records and nurtured a unification of races. "And if you don't believe it," he said, "look at me, up here."

Munoz's work ethic earned him the place at the podium as class salutatorian. But, he said, it was mostly his determination to honor his mom, Gualupe Elizabeth Munoz, who has raised him and his younger brother as a single parent.

Munoz was bested only by Thanh Tran. Gulf High's valedictorian came from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, when she was just 10 years old and could only utter the words "yes" and "no" in English.

Before she left, her dad, who still lives in Vietnam with two of her siblings, told her to strive for the best.

She did.

They did.

And so it goes.

In the balcony sat Nicole June's family - Mom, Dad, siblings, plus Grandma, Grandpa and the aunt, uncle and cousin who flew in from California. They came to watch the oldest of Richard and Lori June's four children forge the way.

"I'm very proud but sad also," said Nicole's dad. "That's my little girl."

Joanne Bullock was thinking pretty much the same thing as she snapped pictures on her disposable camera alongside her husband, Dennis.

"I have mixed emotions," she said, as Lauren Bullock, the youngest of her four children, lined up to get her diploma with the rest of the Class of 2007.

"I'm so happy for her but it feels strange for me," she said. "That's my baby."

They are the Class of 2007. Their stories are ordinary and extraordinary - different, but in many ways, much the same.

And so it goes.

Michele Miller can be reached at miller@sptimes.com or in west Pasco at 869-6251 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505.

Fast Facts:

Gulf High School

Graduates: 240

ESOL English Speakers of Other Languages graduates: 16

Honors grads: 54 cum laude; 16 magna cum laude; 3 summa cum laude.

Bright Futures Scholars: 47

Total scholarships awarded: $789,018