Emotions run high as SHS class graduates

SALEM – Emotions were mixed as the Class of 2011 walked the stage in Salem High School’s graduation on June 14 at the Salem Civic Center.

“I had a bittersweet feeling,” graduate Samantha Waehler said. Deja Browner added, “It’s been a crazy ride.”

Cuban immigrants Manuel Martinez celebrates his graduation June 14 with his family, Yudel Martinez and Magda Salgado, and younger brother, Yudel. Katherine Chiglinski photo
Cuban immigrants Manuel Martinez celebrates his graduation June 14 with parents Yudel Martinez and Magda Salgado and younger brother Yudel. Katherine Chiglinski photo

As the graduates prepared to enter the civic center arena, they reflected on the past at Salem High School while looking towards the future.

“It’s surreal,” said graduate Bronwyn Foley, “but I’m ready to go onto the next thing.”

Though many of the graduates were preparing for their prospective futures, Jade Andrade reminded them to stop and treasure the moment.

“These are the moments of our lives — embrace them,” Andrade said.

Allison Shannon and Jordan Huffman hug after receiving their diplomas. Katherine Chiglinsky photo
Allison Shannon and Jordan Huffman hug after receiving their diplomas. Katherine Chiglinsky photo

Fellow speaker Leslie Brittain reminded students to follow the example of Sal Guinta, the humble soldier who was the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War.

“So whether you end up as a teacher, doctor, or nurse, follow Sal’s example and do whatever makes you want to go the extra mile,” Brittain said.

“We’re no longer driven by threats made by teachers and parents, but driven by dreams of our own,” Senior Class President Clay Bradshaw said.

With 41 Distinguished Scholars and more than 100 winners of scholarships, the Class of 2011 went the extra mile while at Salem High School and the families and friends of the graduates showed up on Tuesday to support them.

Whether it was when Jerrel Ledbetter stood up to receive the Yung-Kyu Lee Outstanding Senior memorial award named for the member of the Class of 1980 or when Timothy Soderberg, an autistic graduate who never let his smile fall while crossing the stage, received his diploma, the crowd cheered uproariously. Sounds of applause and air horns filled the civic center as each graduate crossed the stage.

Graduates were eager to turn their tassles in anticipation of the future. For Manuel Martinez, who immigrated with his family from Las Tunas, Cuba, and the rest of the Class of 2011, their goals had been met and the time to create new goals and dreams had arrived.

Martinez was determined he would get in to Virginia Tech for engineering, because that was the goal he had set for himself. He vowed to “trabaja duro para alcanzar sus metas,” or work hard to achieve his goals, even if it meant early mornings at Salem High School.

As immigrants, Martinez and his family might not be Salem born and Salem bred, but they now call Salem home.

The road to graduation took some unexpected turns for the Martinez family when they decided to flee Cuba on Dec. 31, 2007, due to political persecution. After immigrating, his family began to set up a life in Miami, Fla.

“My parents started a jewelry business, but it was not successful — there was too much competition and the economy was really bad,” Martinez said.

The unsuccessful start in Miami never held the family back as they decided to move their business to Roanoke following the advice of a long time friend, Estela. Y.M. Eleggua-to Jewelry Store, located on Williamson Road, is fairing much better than the Miami business.

While the business had more success in Roanoke, for Martinez and his younger brother, Yudel Martinez, Roanoke was a far cry away from the big city atmosphere of Miami and Cuba.

“I had always lived in big cities and now this was like living in the middle of nowhere,” Martinez said. “At school, I felt totally out of place. I did not speak English, people made fun of me for everything — the way I talked, the way I dressed.”

The transition to Salem High School was unsettling for Martinez, but it never stopped him.

“Fortunately, I found good people that helped me in this big transition,” Martinez said.

Martinez worked daily with his Spanish teacher, Pamela Lewis, and his best friend, Joey Bikkers, to learn English. Both Lewis and Bikkers introduced him to students around the school and invited him into the community. The efforts of those friends never went unnoticed with Martinez.

“I am very thankful to them,” Martinez said.

Now, his extensive list of clubs and activities stands as evidence to the work of those friends and his determination to join the community. Martinez is a member of the indoor and outdoor track teams, the audiovisual club, the business club, the National Honor Society and even served as the president of the Spanish Honor Society in his senior year.

With academics, Martinez never let his fears stop him from completing his goals.

“When I first started at Salem High School, I did not speak any English, so I had to take the lowest level classes that the school offered,” Martinez said. “I made it my goal to take the hardest courses and to get into a good college.”

He can mark two more goals off of his list, since he took IB Chemistry, IB Physics and IB Calculus his senior year and was accepted into the Virginia Tech College of Engineering this spring.

He is the son of Yudel Martinez and Magda Salgado who have supported him throughout his journey.

“They have been very supportive with all my academic work and school activities,” he said.

“I did not get my driver’s license until last summer so they have had to take me to all the activities and sometimes had to go to school to pick me up at midnight after we return from a game.”

Martinez even has the support of his brother, Yudel Martinez, who will enter Andrew Lewis Middle School next year as a sixth grader. Though they fight, they are very close, Martinez said.

– Katherine Chiglinsky