EL CENTRO — Amid the nervous starts, grads' smiles, classmate hugs, shouts of triumph, family encouragement, and firework-lit skies, two Imperial residents who are Central Spartans — both academically and at heart — were especially happy that their four years of hard work in the classroom finally paid off at the 113th Annual Central Union High School Commencement Wednesday, June 2.
Ali Haider Hussain, 18, and Brianna Marie Barrett, 17, both graduated at the top of their CUHS Class of 428 seniors with Summa Cum Laude honors, each with a 4.5 GPA. "About 28 of those seniors decided not participate in the graduation ceremony," CUHS Principal Craig Lyon said.
The duo have been friends throughout high school, they said, taking challenging academic courses throughout high school such as advanced placement courses in biology, computers, physics, and calculus, among others.
“In fact, she recognized me (freshman year) from the Imperial County Spelling Bee (before high school),” Hussain said. “Although we didn’t talk much, she influenced me to focus a bit more in class since I’d just clown around a lot, especially freshman year.”
“We weren’t competitive academically,” he said. “There were multiple instances of us working together in group projects, so I guess in a way we did help each other study.”
“I'm happy that we both got (Summa Cum Laude) because we've kind of been (in classes) together for all four years,” Barrett said, “so I kind of expected it. I’m happy that we both got it.”
“It feels good to be next to each other,” she said.
While their high school academics have mirrored each other throughout, how they both attended Central while being Imperial residents somewhat differs.
Hussain said his parents wanted him to go to Imperial’s Ben Hulse for elementary school but when they applied for a district transfer from El Centro to Imperial it was denied due to the family living in the geographic area that borders both cities.
Yet what is now apparent was Imperial’s loss became Hussain’s gain as the teen went on to graduate at the top of his class with his friend Barrett.
“It was a blessing in disguise because I couldn't be any happier than (I was) being a part of this school,” he said.
Hussain said after his four years at Central he will always remember “the atmosphere of the school, the spirit, the passion, and how kind people really are here.”
“I don't think you really find that in other schools, that's just what makes Central different,” he said. “It's the passion.”
Barrett agreed, saying she chose to transfer to Central her freshman year for her own reasons.
“I felt the vibe,” she said. “The sports, clubs, and academics at Central were just more beneficial to me.”
Throughout her high school career, Barrett participated in various clubs such as the Green Team (Recycling) Club, Link Crew freshman mentoring, Imperial Valley MESA, varsity basketball, and varsity volleyball, in addition to her extracurricular tap and ballet dancing.
Hussain was also in IV MESA, was in Central Mock Trial, and in Central's Robotics Club, saying he will always remember building a prosthetic arm his freshman year.
He said he committed to a full ride scholarship to University of California San Diego, where he will study electrical engineering with hopes of going into machine learning, which is teaching computers how to learn via algorithms “so they’ll actually learn like a human just by observing data.”
Barrett said she will be attending UC Berkeley over the summer and plans to major in environmental engineering science to “work in a company that just helps the planet out … I want to find solutions to save the world for future generations,” she said.
“I am excited (for college),” she said. “It's a little nerve racking because it's kind of far but I've also been waiting for this moment.”
“It feels unreal that the first day of freshman year feels like a couple weeks ago,” Hussain said.
“It's amazing considering the four years of hard work finally paid off, you know? We're finally being recognized for it,” he said. “We're just going to carry this work ethic to the next level at college.”
“It was a blessing in disguise because I couldn't be any happier than (I was) being a part of this school,” Hussain said.
“I know we can all agree that this was not the year that we all expected for our last year of high school,” Barrett said in her speech to the CUHS Class of 2021. "We can all relate to how challenging it was ...."
“In no way am I trying to put down or forget about this global pandemic," she said, "but why don’t we try to focus on the positives for this special night … We can all relate to how challenging it was … this whole year we did not give up.”
“I love Central,” she said.