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Gustine pulls out all the stops for special graduation ceremony
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Brian Ortiz Nuñez posed for pictures with his mother, Luz Maria, and his father, Ramon at a special graduation ceremony at Gustine High School. - photo by Joe Cortez

Gustine High School pulled out all the stops Friday and created a special graduation ceremony for Brian Ortiz Nuñez, a 17-year-old senior battling a rare form of cancer.

“It means a lot to me,” said Ortiz Nuñez, who received a special police escort from his family’s home in Santa Nella. “I was going through a lot, and I didn’t think I was going to be able to go through things like this. But I was able to get this day thanks to Gustine High School.”

Ortiz Nuñez was diagnosed last September with fibrolamellar carcinoma, a cancer of the liver that affects about one in 5 million people in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.

In March, after months of chemotherapy and radiation, the prognosis became even more dire. Ortiz Nuñez was told that he had about one month to live.

“It’s really hard, but it’s God’s plan,” said Brian’s sister, Alondra Ortiz Núñez, who helped spearhead the event. “Only he can tell what’s next. He’s giving us the strength that we have now, being strong for (Brian), and being there for him every single moment, cherishing everything that we’ve got with him.”

Gustine High principal Adam Cano went before the Gustine Unified School District board last month seeking permission to present Ortiz Núñez with a diploma during a special ceremony. The board passed the motion, setting Friday’s events in motion.

“It’s just something that you never want to do again, but it had to be done,” said Cano. “Brian is just a very special kid to us.”

Just after 1 p.m., Gustine High students started lining up along the driveway into the school. About 45 minutes later, the Gustine Police Department escort, with an assist from the Los Banos Police Department, delivered the guest of honor in style as “Pomp and Circumstance” blared in the distance.

“We are very focused on our community and the community members that we have here,” said Officer Edward Gonzales, the Gustine Police Department’s motor unit coordinator. “We were going to give him the escort that he deserved, like a dignitary would receive. … We were going to pull out every stop we could to try to make sure he felt special, because he is.”

“It was extremely special to be a part of a day like this.”

Ortiz Nuñez stepped out his vehicle and waved to his schoolmates, taking in the cheers and reading the signs they held aloft. One read, “Brian, eres un verdadero guerrero” (Brian, you are a true warrior).

Ortiz Nuñez then received his diploma from Cano, and conducted a few interviews with local newspapers and television stations.

“Thank you to Gustine High School for doing all this for me,” said Ortiz Nunez. “They made this moment special for me.”

After the interviews, a visibly tired Ortiz Nuñez posed for pictures with his mother, Luz Maria, and his father, Ramon — placing his red mortar board onto his mother’s head and slipping his red robe over his father’s shoulders — then climbed back into the vehicle, ready to head home.

But before they did, Ortiz Nuñez had one final message for his friends.

“Keep fighting,” he said. “Don’t give up. Life is ahead of you. Just keep fighting.”

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Brian Ortiz Nuñez arrived to the high school with a police escort and a line of students and staff to greet him. - photo by Joe Cortez