Established in 1999, the Graduates of Distinction program is a bi-annual event designed to recognize alumni for their achievements (other than athletics), and to provide current students with the opportunity to recognize their own potential by meeting the honored graduates.
"What I love about this program is that it shows students what their future can be like," said Ilene Foster, coordinator for the Graduates of Distinction. "We've had amazing people come through here. It's a wonderful opportunity for students."
This year's honorees are Henry Cervantes, Edwin Allen and Dr. Dennis Baldocci. The honorees will tour the three Liberty district high schools and participate in assemblies at each campus.
Henry Cervantes, Class of l941, said attending Liberty High School was a life-changing event.
Cervantes said he came to Liberty High School an innocent and naive young man, and promptly took full advantage of the opportunities afforded him.
"My first day at Liberty was a real turning point in my life, because they had hot and cold water, flush toilets and pretty girls," said the former migrant worker. "What else could I possibly want?"
Cervantes went on to serve 22 years in the United States Army as a jet instructor and test pilot. He also worked in the Strategic Air Command on the world's first supersonic bomber. The published author and community volunteer, who now resides in Marina del Rey, said he is proud to be honored as one of 2007's distinguished graduates.
"I am deeply honored by this award and I'll tell you why," said Cervantes. "Attending Liberty High School gave me so many opportunities that I would not have otherwise had, and I hope that my story might have an impact on other students from disadvantaged homes to do their best and see what they can accomplish."
Edwin Allen graduated from Liberty High School in l958 and went on to a notable research career in open-heart transplantation. Trained at Stanford University under the direction of heart transplant maverick doctors Shumway and Lower, Allen participated in nearly 1,000 open-heart surgeries and 50 heart transplants throughout his career.
Today, the Virginia resident said his time at Liberty High was key to his education and ultimate success, and looks forward to sharing his experience with students.
"I'm very happy to be chosen, and I welcome the chance to talk to the high school kids and let them know about the prospects available to them," said Allen. "I'm hoping maybe they'll get interested in this (heart research) too."
Dr. Dennis Baldocci, a microclimatologist and expert on global warming, is a l973 graduate of Liberty High School. A professor in Biometeorology at UC Berkeley and a silver medal award winner from the Department of Commerce, Baldocci hopes to convey to students the abundance of opportunities available to them.
"Obviously I'm very honored to be chosen as one of the Grads of Distinction," said Baldocci, who currently lives in Oakland. "I think it is quite important to do outreach to the students to let them know what their opportunities are. Often kids are not aware of what is out there."
Following the school visits on March 9, a community reception will be held for the honorees at 3:30 p.m. at the Liberty Union High School District Community Education Center, 929 Second St. in Brentwood. The public is invited to attend.