Nogales High School alumni get inducted into Wall of Fame as seniors commemorate graduation
LA PUENTE - As Nogales High School seniors prepared for their graduation Thursday, the school honored graduates who have distinguished themselves in the years since they left the school's halls.
The school inducted five alumni into its Wall of Fame at a luncheon early Thursday, the same day 366 students received their diplomas at their graduation ceremony.
"They're an inspiration," event organizer Mark Anderson said. "They've distinguished themselves and have become someone in the community that we can aspire to become."
Among the honorees was Tom Soto, class of 1981, who was selected last year by Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the "100 Most Influential Hispanics in the United States."
"This is my chalice," the La Puente native said. "This is genuine and sincere. Probably all of us wouldn't be where we are today without your motivation. You cannot underestimate the contributions that you as individuals make to a young mind forming."
The other Wall of Fame inductees were Susana Gonzalez, class of 1983; William Jones, class of 1969; Fernando Perez, class of 1983; and Lorenzo Vazquez, class of 1987.
"It's important to celebrate who we are
Gonzalez, a La Puente native, is an obstetrician and gynecologist in Napa, where she pioneered robotics for a minimally invasive surgery program.
"It's always wonderful to come back and recognize where you came from," she said. "I would tell graduates don't be afraid to dream and when they do have that dream, don't be afraid to pursue it."
Staying true to the Rowland Unified School District, Jones has worked for the past 25 years as a district police officer.
"I want these kids to survive," the Rowland Heights resident said. "If I can help them do it, I'm satisfied."
A real estate finance expert and radio/television personality, Perez said he owes his success to the school.
"I believe we're all who we are because we went to Nogales, not in spite of going to Nogales," he said.
Keeping close ties to the city he was raised in, Vazquez became a medical doctor and opened a clinic in La Puente and became a major in the Army Medical Corps.
Soto said his parents, Nell and Phillip, also inspired his journey.
Philip, who was involved in the incorporation of La Puente and later became a City Council member, was one of the first Latinos elected to the California Legislature in 1962. He helped organize the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez and participated in the anti-Vietnam War movement. He died in 1997.
Nell, who was also a pioneer in environmental protection, was one of the first Latino women elected to statewide office from the Inland Empire. She died in 2009.
Their activism galvanized Soto to be an activist in his own right.
After graduating from UCLA in 1987, Soto fought for environmental causes and clean air programs in the state and nationwide, while also getting minorities involved in the renewable energy movement.
President Bill Clinton appointed Soto to the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission, and he advised the administration on economic and environmental matters related to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Soto is also an outside adviser to the Obama administration on green jobs and clean-technology programs.
"A lot of my former instructors there's so much of their voice that continues to resonate in the life that I lead," he said. "It's a real honor and privilege to be here at Nogales. This is our home and this is where I belong. And here I am. At home."
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