Class of 2017

Gulfport salutatorian says education was his sane place after death of parents

Daniel Garcia, salutatorian; John Marquez, valedictorian; and Madeline Appel, Senior Class President for Gulfport High School’s Class of 2017.
Daniel Garcia, salutatorian; John Marquez, valedictorian; and Madeline Appel, Senior Class President for Gulfport High School’s Class of 2017. Special to the Sun Herald

For Gulfport High School Salutatorian Daniel Garcia, excelling through high school became his de facto sanctuary, which enabled him to successfully tackle the challenges and adversity in his life.

One of 321 graduates at Tuesday’s graduation ceremony at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum, Garcia accepted his diploma and high honors 10 years after both of his parents died. When living with other family members didn’t work out, he was placed into foster care.

“I’ve always been good in school; it’s always just been the one thing that kept me sane and the one thing that’s been consistent in my life when everything else had been changing,” said Garcia.

That’s when friend and fellow graduate Brailey Penny, along with her parents, Shawn and Victoria came through. The Pennys were able to get the license needed to take Garcia into their home until he completed school.

“It’s been like my saving grace just to be able to compete academically in school (for example) on debate teams,” said Garcia. “It wasn’t so much of a task to complete school; it was the one thing that kept me going.”

Garcia joined Valedictorian John Marquez and senior class president Madeline Appel to formally usher their class into the next phases of their lives. They proudly boasted of this year’s class having earned a school record $14 million in scholarships.

South Mississippi graduating seniors discuss Mississippi’s image throughout the country and how they view the state flag.

“It’s really special to be the leader of all these talented and smart people. Moving forward I’m seeing a lot of bright futures,” said Appel.

Marquez’s address centered on four key life points: Chart your own course; take charge of your life; see adversity as an opportunity; and be compassionate and able to work in diverse areas. He will attend the University of Mississippi with plans of double-majoring in chemical engineering and business.

Garcia will attend Pomona College near Los Angeles, then move on to law school. Appel will major in exercise and science at Ole Miss.

In tradition of Gulfport graduations, a kindergartner and proposed future Gulfport graduate was chosen to give the valedictorian and salutatorian their medallions. This year, it was Colt McQueen (Class of 2030), son of Mark and Elizabeth McQueen and a student at Bayou View Elementary School.

Gulfport High School

Mascot: Admirals

Valedictorian: John Marquez, son of Johnny and Margaret Marquez

Salutatorian: Daniel Garcia, Shawn and Victoria Penny, Guardians

Principal: Michael Lindsey

Class Size: 321

Quote: “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” John Wooden