"A year ago, I couldn't even imagine that I would be here graduating from high school," he said. "I didn't care about school. I thought it was a waste of time."
That was before he enrolled at Alta Vista, Mountain View's continuation high school, where he said he began to enjoy school for the first time. He explains that he was "sent" to Alta Vista because he had been fighting with his classmates. The audience is silent listening to his story. It's honest. It's emotional.
"The AVHS graduation is one of the most compelling and emotionally charged events you can attend," said Alta Vista Principal Bill Pierce in an email.
He's right. This is a graduation ceremony unlike most others. It began with a slideshow of photos of students around campus, and video clips of students explaining what Alta Vista means to them. Most of them mention the community feel at Alta, which is even apparent in the crowd. The auditorium seats are filled; some stand to watch in the back. Family and friends of all ages — from infants to grandparents — cheer, laugh, and cry, holding balloons and cameras.
"I'm going to miss being part of this family," one student said.
After the video presentation, the curtain opened to reveal the 56 members of the class of 2010 to tremendous applause. Superintendent Barry Groves and school board President Joe Mitchner both spoke to the class of 2010.
After student speeches from Josh Nunez, Randall Young and Briana Morton, the graduates were announced individually and received their diplomas. Debi Rudd and Doreen Bracamontes announced the graduates, reading a brief bio about each. Many are continuing their education next year, while others will be working. Students said they are working toward careers in everything from art to psychology to medicine.
Young was last to receive his diploma, and Bracamontes held back tears as she read his name. It is clear she is proud.
"Thanks for not giving up on me, even if you wanted to," Young had said in his speech. He thanked Principal Pierce personally. "You always saw something in me, even though I didn't see it in myself until now."
The graduates all seem proud of the journey they have undergone at Alta.
"It's time to start a new chapter in life," Young said.