RIO GRANDE VALLEY/McALLEN - Seniors ahead of their high school class from Falfurrias to Hidalgo, TX were in attendance at the “Head of the Class” award ceremony at James Nikki Rowe High School, Tuesday, Dec. 3.

The 15 senior honorees from South Texas high schools received a plaque and certificate from U.S. State Senator, John Coryn presented by the Rio Grande Valley Sector Border Patrol. It is a special tradition in which the agency hopes to make an impact on the recipients who have not only maintained their academics but volunteered countless hours to the community and are nominated by their counselors. It was the 10th year ceremony that the students were recognized by the rigorous work and volunteerism accomplished while going to school.

Keynote speaker Oscar Longoria, Representative for House District 35 and Mission native  advised the honorees who will be attending college next Fall.

“When they contacted me and told me I’d be speaking to you all, I started thinking ‘well what am I going to tell them?” Longoria said. “So, just going through your resumes, you all have done outstanding things in the community to academics and civics - the list just goes on and on.”

He shared what to expect the first year between balancing fun and academics but reminded the honorees why they are attending school.

“You have to understand what you’re going to school for, and that is to get your education and achieve the goals you have.”

Longoria also encouraged students who are leaving the Valley, to return and give back to the community - something McAllen High recipient, Jonah Riojas has in mind.

“Just last year I held the Mcallen Candidate Commissioner’s forum where over 100 McAllen citizens were in attendance, 1,500 watched and I was offered 4 interviews by local news networks to offer students a voice,” Riojas said.

The McHi senior class president said he’d return to the city of McAllen to serve as a city commissioner or mayor.

McAllen ISD President Board of Trustees, Marco Suarez was also in attendance helping U.S. Customs and Border present the awards.

“The Head of the Class is very prestigious and has been in existence for 20 years and in these 20 years, there’s been over $67,500 awarded to students,” Suarez said. “And I say to every individual in uniform here, thank you very much for not only protecting and serving our country but for giving these young students this opportunity.”

Selected honorees from the group of 15 will receive the “Youth of the Year” award and a scholarship from donated business sponsors along with the Visionary Award winner presented by Shah Eye Center to the educator/counselor affiliated with the “Head of the Class” organization.

The “Youth of the Year” award ceremony is set to take place at the Payne Arena in May.

Head of the Class Recipients

Jimmy Ortiz – James Nikki Rowe High School

Gabriel Espinoza – Edinburg High School

Emery Drewry – Edinburg North High School

Yamilex Cantu – Johnny Economedes High School

Alejandro Rodriguez – Robert Vela High School

Karina Casas – Falfurrias High School

Eduardo Cazares – Hidalgo Early College High School

Jonah Riojas – McAllen High School

Sofia Hernandez – McAllen Memorial High School

Claudia Quintana – PSJA Early College High School

Gianna Salinas – PSJA Memorial Early College High School

Mariana Juarez – PSJA North Early College High School

Lexi Kintigh – PSJA Southwest Early College High School

Matt Juarez – South Texas World Scholars

Priscilla Mendoza – Valley View High School