WATSONVILLE — Osler Santillan, one of Pajaro Valley High School’s nearly 300 graduating seniors, said Amesti Elementary School looked very different during his fifth-grade year.
“There was never a fence gate here,” Santillan said, pointing over to the front of the school. “It looks different, but I still remember most of it.”
Santillan and 66 other graduating Pajaro Valley seniors took a trip down memory lane Monday morning, visiting four elementary schools in Watsonville decked out in their green graduation gowns with the hopes of inspiring the next generation of Grizzlies.
Dubbed the “graduation parade,” the participating seniors — slated to receive their high school diplomas on Thursday at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds — dished out high fives and sage advice for kids at Landmark, Starlight, H.A. Hyde and Amesti elementary schools.
Among the questions asked by the kids from Amesti: “How much did you learn?”
“This much,” the Pajaro Valley students answered in unison while stretching their arms to the ceiling of the school’s cafeteria.
One by one the Pajaro Valley seniors introduced themselves by saying what elementary school they attended and their future plans. Some were getting ready to head off to UC Los Angeles and UC Davis, while others were staying closer to home at Cabrillo College, Cal State Monterey Bay and San Jose State.
Pajaro Valley Activities Director Julie Brusa-Wallace started the event last year after seeing similar events on social media and at Alisal High School in Salinas. After only touring Starlight last year, student leadership decided to parade at four schools this year.
The goal of the parades, Brusa-Wallace said, is to show elementary school kids what is achievable through education.
“I think it gets them really excited about their future — you see the end goal,” she said.
Santillan was one of roughly a dozen students to have roamed the halls of Amesti in his younger years. Longtime Amesti Principal Erin Haley said she saw plenty of recognizable faces in the green-clad crowd.
“They all look a little different but I recognize all of them,” Haley said, “I’m really glad they came back.”
Seeing the energetic, pint-sized elementary school kids served as a bit of motivation for the high school kids, too.
“It makes you see how much you’ve really grown,” said Pajaro Valley senior Jayleen Solorzano. “It wasn’t until I saw how little they all looked that I kind of realized how far we’ve all come.”
Added classmate and cousin Jackie Solorzano: “You realize how much you’ve evolved over the years.”