Class of 2019: Inspiring Young People

Kaweah High School graduation ceremony was inspired by the actions of one student and the words of another

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

EXETER – Walking the line at graduation is a routine part of nearly every high school senior’s experience. For many continuation high school students, reaching graduation is the culmination of an arduous journey overcoming challenges both at school and at home. But for Edwin Silva-Torres, walking across the stage to receive his diploma was nothing short of a miracle.

Three months ago Edwin was nearly killed in a car accident. The 18-year-old was driving his Toyota sedan northbound on Road 156 (Mariposa Avenue) near Walnut Avenue west of Farmersville when he was hit by heavy duty pickup in the driver side door. The impact ruptured his spleen, collapsed one of his lungs, caused major internal bleeding, and left Edwin unconscious. He was taken to Kaweah Delta Medical Center where doctors were able to stabilize him before airlifting him to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. 

Edwin underwent three surgeries and three more procedures to repair organ damage and to protect his brain but he remained in a coma for two weeks after the crash. When he came out of the coma, Yesenia Silva said her brother had no eye movement, a blank stare, and was only able to slightly move half of his body. 

“He was awake, but not really,” said Yesenia, a former standout long distance running for Exeter Union High School and College of the Sequoias and Brigham Young University. 

“I don’t remember any of that,” said Edwin, who was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). “I was

confused and I didn’t know what was going on.”

In early April, Yesenia said her brother began to show signs of improvement. Edwin was transferred to an acute care rehabilitation center in San Jose. Once there, Yesenia said Edwin began to make rapid strides in recovery. He began writing his own name, nodding answers to yes or no questions, and tracking different people with his eyes as they spoke. After the first week, Edwin began  doing exercises with the therapist twice per week, brushing his own teeth, and sitting up on his own for short periods of time. 

“One day he started coughing and he cleared something from his throat,” Yesenia said. “Then he just started talking and he said he had a goal of going to graduation.”

Yesenia said the family believed Edwin would make a full recovery, but they didn’t think there was any way the doctors would release him to attend graduation more than three hours away. On Monday, May 27, the doctors gave the family permission to take Edwin out to eat. The next day, Yesenia went to visit her brother who said he had a surprise for her. When she entered the room, he pushed himself out of the wheelchair and took a few steps toward her on his own. 

“I was worried he was going to fall, but I couldn’t move because I was also in shock,” said Yesenia, who had left her home in Utah the day of the accident and stayed at her brother’s side since. “It was surreal.”

Edwin was released a week later, just two days before graduation. None of his classmates knew he was going to be at the ceremony until he saw them just before they walked in to take their seats on the EUHS Auditorium stage on June 5. Halfway into the ceremony, guidance counselor Christine Wegner announced Edwin as the winner of the school’s Rebound Award for the student who persevered over the greatest challenges during the school year. Then, with nothing but a stabilizing teacher’s hand on the small of his back, Edwin stood up and walked across the stage to accept his award. It inspired the crowd to their feet for a standing ovation.

“I was excited to be here for graduation, seeing my friends and my family who was with me the whole way,” Edwin said after the ceremony. “After the accident, everyone remained positive because they knew me and how I am. They believed I would make it and that made me believe I would make it.”

Before receiving his diploma, Edwin also received the Rebound Award 

“Enjoy life to the fullest,” Edwin said in an interview after the graduation. “Anything can happen.” 

Edwin was among four students to receive achievement awards among the 27 graduates that night. Lesley Lopez received the Citizenship award, Jabin Cunningham the Pyramid of Success, and Monique Miramontes received the Senior of the Year Award. The Optimist Club of Exeter’s annual scholarship went for $1,000 went to David Ramirez-Solares. 

While Edwin certainly inspired the crowd with his actions, Vanessa Garcia inspired those in attendance with her words. She recalled how others doubted her at the start of high school and viewed her transfer to Kaweah as confirmation. But once she arrived at the continuation high school, Vanessa said she improved in her school work every day. 

“The principal and counselor were the main people who believed in me and helped me to keep going even when I didn’t want to,” she said. “When we really think about it, we all have impacted each other somehow.”

Vanessa credited Kaweah High School for helping to shape her into the person she is today, and helped prepare her for the person she will need to be tomorrow, in the real world, where things don’t come easy.

“As students at Kaweah, we have had to overcome so many stereotypes, rude remarks, and people who said we can’t do it…we’re not worthy,” she said. “Guess what? We found people who do care.  People who believe in us.  And, most importantly, we have learned to believe in ourselves.”

She quoted inspirational speaker Naeem Callaway, “Sometimes the smallest steps in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tip toe, if you must, but take the step.” She said every thing they learned was a step toward graduation and all of their experiences, good or bad, were steps in learning life’s lessons. 

“What steps we take moving forward is pretty exciting,” Vanessa said. “Everyone on this stage took the biggest step to be here and now this is just the beginning to a new chapter in our lives. We are more than what people expect.” 

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