McALLEN – Four valedictorians from McAllen Independent School District were officially recognized during a surprise visit from superintendent, Dr. J.A. Gonzalez, their high school principals and other school officials last week.

Staff celebrated the achievements of Emil Anthony Velasquez from Achieve Early College High School, Anna Marie Martinez from McAllen High School, Riya Manohar from McAllen Memorial High School and Deyanira Rodriguez from McAllen Rowe High School.

School officials gathered at Achieve Early College High and drove together across McAllen to each of the students’ homes, where they surprised them and their parents with flowers, balloons, apparel and a certificate as proof of their scholarly achievement. Gonzalez also gave the students their valedictorian stoles.

The families gathered outside their homes and showered their sons and daughters with photos of the special occasion.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Emil’s mother, Emily Velasquez, said. “It’s a wonderful feeling for our family to have a son like him.”

Some of the parents were notified beforehand about the official visits, but weren’t told why they were being carried out.

“They had called me so I could be here at the house because I work,” Velasquez said. “But it was a surprise, of course, because we don’t know the ranking, and until it was all said and done then yeah, okay, he’s valedictorian.

“I’m just happy to see all his hard work paid off.”

Confetti is thrown at the home of Emily and Ernesto Velasquez as their son, Emil Anthony Velasquez is surprised with being named Achieve Early College High School valedictorian by McAllen ISD on Thursday. (Delcia Lopez |

Becoming valedictorian is difficult enough, but achieving it during a global pandemic has its own unique hurdles to overcome, Emil’s mother said.

Deprived of the usual studious environment of a school’s library, Emil found himself confronting an unusual and conflicting situation.

“The fact that the classes were virtual meant that there was no real separation between where I worked and where I rested,” Emil said. “So, it felt harder to get motivation.”

He would find himself waking up in his room only to be met by school work, instead of using the space to play video games with his friends and relaxing.

Studious as he is, Velasquez would try to keep a normal school schedule despite being home. His schedule consisted of morning classes, and if he felt motivated, he would try to knock his work out before 4 p.m. Other times, he would rest until the evening and then take on his work.

The blending of home life with school and sometimes work has proven to be quite the challenge felt by students of all ages and parents alike. So the district wanted to make sure it went the extra mile to celebrate their achievements.

McAllen ISD also recognized the salutatorians from the same four high schools: Nelson Alvarez from Achieve Early College High, Sutton Propst from McAllen High, Minji Kim from Memorial High and Eric Adalberto Jackson Jr. from Rowe High School.

The four valedictorian visits were also live streamed and posted on McAllen ISD’s Facebook page for others to watch and celebrate.