A teen’s moment to shine almost turned to heartbreak when her late father’s ring was lost during her commencement. But the sharp eyes of a campus custodian saved the day.
Gabriella Cervantes, 14, wore the ring for her graduation from La Loma Junior High, held in the Johansen High gymnasium May 22. Cervantes won an Eddy Award this year, a recognition for inspirational students who have succeeded despite obstacles.
“I felt it the whole time. I felt like he was at the graduation, too,” Cervantes said Tuesday. But as she walked to the family car after the La Loma ceremony, she realized it was gone.
“She couldn’t have lived with it. I’d already accepted it. I knew as long as she had it with her that something could happen to it,” said her mother, Laci Cervantes. Gabriella Cervantes wore the ring on her left thumb because it had worn so thin that it was broken in one spot and might have fallen off a chain.
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Laci and Eduardo Cervantes had been high school sweethearts at Downey High, leaving school together after her mother died her junior year. He was killed by a drunken driver in March 2013.
“I find myself trying to find ways to keep him close to them,” Laci Cervantes said, meaning Gabriella and her two brothers, a second-grader and a son who was graduating from Downey High shortly after the La Loma event. As the small group raced to find the ring, the pressure was on for everyone to get moving.
“The panic and just the heartbreak, you could see it in her. They (the custodians) were young, but they got it. They got the seriousness of it,” Laci Cervantes said. Even though Johansen’s own graduation in the stadium would be starting soon, three campus custodians and a half-dozen La Loma staff members stayed, combing the grounds to find the ring, she said.
“They never made me feel like they needed to be anywhere else,” Cervantes said.
About 15 minutes after Gabriella Cervantes realized it was gone from her hand, Johansen custodian Andrew Nunez spotted the ring on a water main cover near the yellow bars of the parking lot, a spot the girl did not even remember walking near, Cervantes said.
La Loma office worker Becky Vaille praised the custodians in a letter to Johansen Principal Nathan Schar. “We know with their own ceremony moments away, they really did not have the time to spare for this search, but they seemed unwilling to give up. To say that they went above and beyond is an understatement,” Vaille wrote.
“I know you can imagine what this meant to this family,” she said.