Fresno High School principal Elisa Torres Messing administered a speech to the graduating Class of 2017 with a bit of her New York accent meshed with her Dominican heritage June 7 at the Save Mart Center.
Messing, who has been with Fresno Unified since 2009, showed a binder full of blank pages that would have contained her speech. The married mother of two, who is seven months’ pregnant, didn’t need anything written or rehearsed.
She seemed quite at home on the graduation stage, capturing the attention on an at-times raucous spectators screaming all sorts of cheers to the graduates.
She garnered applause after asking graduates to stand if they are the oldest or youngest of their siblings. She asked if they will be the first in their family to attend college.
There was an immense applause after she asked graduates to stand if they, “Like me, you are the sons or daughters of immigrants.”
Some graduates shouted “Viva México!”
The short exercise broke the routine prior to a serious portion in her speech.
She spoke of a comment a person said to her and her husband, David Barton, the athletic director at Fresno High, as they exited through the parking lot of a Costco.
“Here’s another Muslim terrorist.”
Messing said the comment came from a man backing his truck out of a stall.
The graduating class that numbers 476 and many of the thousands of spectators in the Save Mart Center were soon silenced.
“People are going to judge you beyond your degrees. The New York side of me was like (jokingly gestures), but the human side of me was like that must be somebody so full of pain to do that to a pregnant lady.”
Messing, who was raised in New York, is the second female and first Latina principal of Fresno High School.
Messing, 40, said she wanted graduates to walk away with hope because people will always be unsympathetic.
“I think that building our kids up from the inside is kind of like the best strategy, I would think. Anticipate that people will always have an opinion of you,” she said in her speech.
Messing’s parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s. Messing later announced that Ricardo and Ivelisse Torres, her parents on the east coast, watched her deliver her speech through Facetime on her iPhone, which she placed on the podium.
Messing ended her speech with a quote from her father: “You know you’re somebody.”
Fresno High School
June 7, 2017 / Save Mart Center
Latino enrollment: 73.2 per cent
Latino valedictorians: Raúl Montellano, Victor Gonsales, Valeria Leyva, Jaime Prado, Efraín Rivera, Liliana Ruiz, Dayana Camarena, Cindy Cárdenas, Luis Jiménez, Allison Mendoza, Jennifer Paredes-Francia, Jacqueline Salas.
Quote: “Life beyond high school has so much more to offer, and you have so much more to offer.” Fresno High counselor Cate Dossetti.
Highlight: Numerous seniors welcomed spectators in at least four different languages.