More than 40 high school students from the Santa Maria Valley were celebrated for their decision to join the military after high school in a ceremony held at the Veterans Memorial Center Friday.
Families of recruits gathered to applaud their student’s decision to serve the country in a ceremony that included words of encouragement from local Army, Navy, Air Force recruiters and marines, as well as cake.
The students, who are enrolled in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, also received sashes representing their branch of choice for upcoming graduation ceremonies the first week of June.
“To seniors, it doesn’t matter what branch you join. Thank you for your commitment to this nation,” said Technical Sergeant. Bryce Haylett, Air Force recruiter. “I know your parents are extremely proud of you.”
Beginning in 2017 as a small event at Righetti High School, the ceremony was designed to be similar to sports signing days or other events where students attending college are celebrated. The idea was born when Dutch and Samantha Van Patten, husband and wife and Righetti’s teachers, sent their son to the Air Force in 2016.
“I was lucky enough to get academic and athletic scholarships, but I come from a military family,” Dutch said. “These children make a choice to serve our country and should be honored for it.”
After the initial ceremony in Righetti, Assistant Superintendent John Davis, whose son is in the Navy, helped expand the event to all high schools in the district. This year’s ceremony was the first at the Veterans Memorial Center after COVID-19 delayed their plans by two years.
Every year, the Van Pattens donate the cakes for the ceremony out of pocket, including this year when Gina’s Piece of Cake downtown provided the cakes at cost.
Dutch opened the ceremony with some congratulatory and encouraging remarks to the students, and some advice for their parents.
“My son went to basic training as a lost boy, but when I saw him at his graduation he was now a man,” he said, holding back tears. “I’ve never been more proud of him than I was on that day. If you can find a way, do whatever it takes to get to their graduation.”
In addition to introducing the students, the recruiters took time to reflect on the impact of the military on their lives and offered words of wisdom.
“I owe it all to the service, really, and I think any other recruiter here would say the same. We’re all who we are today because of our time in the military,” Haylett said. “Soak in and enjoy all it has to offer. Never say no to an opportunity.