Grizzlies' graduates inspired by role models

Seniors Mayra Fernandez, Julissa Espindola and Aaron Araiza graduated on Thursday afternoon. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE — Mayra Fernandez will soon return to a location that is all too familiar.

The Pajaro Valley High School graduating senior will be walking the halls of Cabrillo College in the fall. And while many things have changed since she last visited, her childhood memories of the community college — and the opportunities it provides — have not.

As a 7-year-old, Fernandez and her younger sister, Melissa, would tag along with her mother, Maria Zamora, to Cabrillo for night classes. Her mom, at a time undocumented, worked in the fields early in the morning, and spent the rest of her day earning an associate’s degree at Cabrillo’s Watsonville location.

With her dad, Antonio, spending several nights away from home as a long-haul truck driver, Fernandez had no other choice but to sit in the back of the class with her mom and work on her homework or read a book. 

“A lot of the teachers, they were really supportive of it,” Fernandez said. “They would see me and my sister, and say, ‘thank you for joining us again!’”

Her mom eventually received her associate’s degree — she has plans to return to school to earn her bachelor’s — and Fernandez, like several members of Pajaro Valley’s nearly 300-student graduating class, will soon get started on a college degree of her own.

She hasn’t decided on a major yet, but she is thinking of following other family member’s footsteps. Her cousins, Alejandro and Gustavo Zamora, are police officers. The former with Salinas Police Department and the latter with Watsonville Police Department.

The Zamora brothers are two big reasons why Fernandez joined WPD’s cadets program a little more than a year ago. Under the tutelage of officers Noe Hernandez, Monique Rangel and Saul Valadez, she learned the ins and outs of law enforcement such as how to write a report, conduct traffic stops and interact with the community in the correct manner.

“It gave me a whole different perspective of what law enforcement really is,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez, an über-involved student at Pajaro Valley, said her family hasn’t pushed her into one field or another. They’ve simply given her the tools to shape her future into whatever form she wishes. 

“They sacrificed a lot to give me the opportunity to do whatever I want to do,” she said. “I’m really lucky my parents worked so hard.”

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Daniel Rocha Hernandez gets in the celebratory mood at the commencement ceremony for Pajaro Valley High at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Thursday. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian


In the fall Julissa Espindola will move south to San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly, and she feels more than ready to be on her own for the first time.

She’s had an exceptional example of how to be an “empowered woman,” she said. Her mom, Dora Gutierrez, for 30 years has owned her own hair salon, Designing Cut, in Watsonville.

“She bought her own house, she has the shop, she’s super independent,” Espindola said. “I always ask her, ‘how do you do it?’ And she just says “Con la ayuda de Dios (With the help of God).”

Espindola carried on her mom’s example at Pajaro Valley. The 4.1 grade point average student was senior class president, an on-campus advocate for the environment and animals and a teacher with Girls Inc. She also played softball for two seasons and cheered for three years.

At Girls Inc. she taught sophomores and juniors about self-defense, women’s health, how to plan for the future and how to make a difference in their community. 

“It was all about creating a sisterhood, an empowering sisterhood,” Espindola said. 

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Pajaro Valley High graduates Kayla Salazar (from left), Andrea Ortiz and Andrea Magallon are all smiles. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

Espindola plans to major in environmental management and protection. She hopes to be an advocate for the environment and the numerous creatures that inhabit it.

“Very soon, if not now, we’re going to need someone to save this whole planet,” Espindola said.


Aaron Araiza described himself as an outgoing kid and an ever-present figure at the Pajaro Valley campus — he hardly missed a sporting event, school dance or rally.

Four years ago, he would have described himself very differently.

“I used to be afraid to do anything in class,” Araiza said. “I wouldn’t raise my hand. I wouldn’t say anything. Now, I can’t stop talking. It’s a little bit of a problem. Teachers tell me it’s good, but I need to not overdo it.”

Araiza said he’s indebted to the teachers and administration at Pajaro Valley for helping him come out of his timid shell. 

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Family and friends fill the bleachers at the fairgrounds for the Pajaro Valley High graduation on June 6. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

In his last year as a Grizzly he was a coordinator for the associated student body, he ran track and cross country and was accepted into Sacramento State, where he plans to study criminal justice and hopefully become an agent for the FBI.

“High school really developed me,” he said. “It made me who I am… The teachers I had really challenged me to be better. They pushed me, and they made me believe in myself.”


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