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Graduates draw same message from speaker, song

PALMETTO — Patricia Valladares’s favorite music includes classic rock and Motown.

Miley Cyrus? Not so much.

Yet 15 eighth-grade graduates in Tuesday’s Just for Girls 2010 commencement of the Jane B. Pratt Alternative School for Girls took Valladares’s keynote address to heart as well as lyrics they sang from “The Climb” by the pop princess:

The struggles I’m facing,

The chances I’m taking,

Sometimes might knock me down but

No I’m not breaking

Yulianna Garcia got the message.

“Keep going no matter what happens in your life,” said the 17-year-old, named Best Overall Student at the Kendrick Auditorium ceremony. “Sometimes in life you fall, but you learn from getting back up. Keep trying.”

Valladares did.

A native of El Salvador, she was raised in a tough part of Jersey City, N.J., yet it didn’t stop her from going to college and eventually earning a law degree. She now lives in Palmetto.

“The neighborhood I grew up in gave me enough exposure to negative things and my reaction was to go into my room and read. It was simple for me. I was saved by books and teachers,” the 50ish Valladares said.

She also gave the girls brief pointers to use to help them succeed. Among them:

n Be on time.

n Be prepared.

n Be nice.

“It’s old school, yes, but you have to keep driving it in,” Valladares said. “They try to make that same message here.”

Nancy Agustin-Pineda understood it.

“She was right about everything. I try it. I know it works,” said the 14-year-old named Best Student Worker. “I was impressed.”

So was Amber Shellhammer, 15.

“Taking in all that was said, I think it’ll stick with me through high school, college and life,” said the Most Improved Eighth Grader.

School director Dee Ralph hopes so.

“You do have to climb in life. It’s not easy for any of us. Just because you fall, doesn’t mean you stay down,” she said.

“That’s my wish for these girls.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.