Sanger West sends off its first graduating class

Hornets’ Class of 2024 totals 305, 40 of which carry GPAs above 4.0, in historic inaugural commencement ceremony in Fresno on June 7

Sanger West High valedictorian Jack Nelson gestures as he encourages his fellow graduates during the school’s inaugural commencement ceremony at Save Mart Center in Fresno the afternoon of June 7. Nelson was one of two students speakers to the 305-member Class of 2024. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published June 11, 2024  • 
9:30 am

FRESNO – Sanger West High School has reached yet another milestone in its second full school year of existence, honoring and recognizing its first-ever graduating class.

A loud, supportive crowd cheered on the 305-member Class of 2024 during an afternoon ceremony June 7 at the Save Mart Center on the Fresno State campus. The graduates featured four valedictorians: speaker Jack Nelson, Vanessa Griffith, Michael Potter and Jotpal Kahlon along with 40 top academic scholars carrying grade point averages of 4.0 or greater.

A proud Samuel Polanco, school principal, saluted the first class of graduates for their perseverance and dedication to overcome a freshman year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and set the standard for all future SWHS classes.

“Over four years ago, my vision of Sanger West was centered around two things, one was to create a positive school culture where you would feel respected, valued and loved every single day you were on campus,” he said. “Number two was to have you build strong student-to-adult and student-to-student relationships, so you could feel connected to at least one person on campus and make lifeline memories with lifelong friends.”

Polanco shared about meeting Class of 2024 students for the first time through masks and online learning.

A proud Sanger West High Principal Samuel Polanco delivers an emotional address to his students during the school’s first commencement ceremony at Save Mart Center in Fresno the afternoon of June 7. The senior class completed their fourth year at their new campus; including a first and final year in the new three-story main education building. (Jon Earnest)

“When I popped into your virtual classroom, I could tell there’s something special about this class. That you were going to be the class who announced to the world that the Sanger West Hornets had arrived,” he said to roars of support from the graduates.

Valedictorian speaker Nelson, who carried an overall of 4.521, said his own personal experiences in top college rejections before being accepted to the University of California, Berkeley mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering program. He said his pathway motto was to “fail fast” and solve challenges and problems from multiple angles.

“Our journey may have been filled with obstacles, but today we stand as living proof that no setback is insurmountable,” Nelson said. “Here’s to our past successes, our future endeavors and countless failures that have made us what we are today.”

Fellow graduate Jonaven Arevalo also gave a “resilient student” speech reflecting the class of graduates’ drive for success. The members of the Sanger Unified School District Board of Trustees presented the graduates with their awards, and a special staff choir consisting of school staff members and graduates sang a special number dedicated for the ceremony.

After John Schiefer, SWHS assistant principal, officially declared the Class of 2024 as formal graduates, officials released a shower of confetti and streamers on the departing seniors. In 2023-24, the seniors and other students moved into the new three-story main instructional building on the growing campus at the northeast corner of Fowler and Jensen Avenues in southeast Fresno.

Jon Earnest
Reporter