Graduations at Alta Vista High School are known for being personalized and emotional affairs, with each graduate at the small alternative high school receiving recognition for their accomplishments, but this year's ceremony had special significance.
The Class of 2022 is the last group of Alta Vista students to graduate under the leadership of Principal Bill Pierce, who has led the school since the mid-1990s and is retiring this summer. The senior class also reached the graduation stage on Tuesday, June 7, after weathering the coronavirus pandemic for more than two years.
In his final graduation speech as principal, Pierce got emotional as he spoke about the love and pride he feels for the students of Alta Vista. While he has two biological sons of his own, Pierce said that over the years he feels he has had hundreds of children at Alta Vista.
"You are my kids and I hope you feel that you have been cared for by a family that loves you very much," Pierce told the graduates, his voice breaking with emotion.
The graduation ceremony included honoring students with awards for achievement in different academic subjects and announcing scholarships that students have received from various community groups. Staff also read information about each student as the graduates were presented at the end of the ceremony.
Alta Vista High School is part of the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District and is focused on supporting students who struggled in a traditional high school environment and often fell behind in their classes.
The three student graduation speakers on Tuesday each outlined their own paths to graduation and the challenges they faced to get there.
Jo Irons spoke about growing up homeless, moving between cars, tents and trailers with her family, before living on her own outdoors by the time she was around 16. Despite experiencing repeated hardships and attending more than 50 schools over the years, Irons told the audience that she stuck with her goal of graduating and continued attending her classes.
During the pandemic, she moved to the Los Altos area and once again enrolled in a new school. At Alta Vista, Irons said that things were different.
"I was flooded by classmates wanting to be my friends, showering me with happiness – an experience I truly only believed ever happened in movies," Irons said. "Each and every staff member was focused on helping me, making my graduation much easier."
Betzaida Ponce Solorio also spoke about experiencing unstable housing, including living in a home that had two beds for six people and an RV that needed to be moved every 72 hours. Ponce Solorio said that during her freshman year, she was skipping school and getting in conflicts with other students.
When her mom gave birth, Ponce Solorio said it was a blessing, because her little sister acted as a big source of motivation for her. She was working over 40 hours a week and caring for her younger siblings. The stress weighed heavily on both her and her mother, and Ponce Solorio said she realized she didn't want to live in this way forever.
"I matured and changed my mentality," Ponce Solorio said. "I came to realize that school is the only way out."
She thanked Alta Vista's staff for their support and urged her classmates to take things one day at a time, recognizing that the present circumstances are just a chapter in life, not the full story.
Perla Serrano Serrano told her story of coming to Alta Vista after being out of school for two years following the birth of her daughter and subsequent struggle with undiagnosed postpartum depression.
"I wanted to catch up to also show my daughter that in life there are many obstacles, but you can always reach your goals," Serrano Serrano said.
At first, she was nervous about coming back to school and being judged for being a teen mom, but said that she was welcomed by the staff at Alta Vista.
"Thank you for giving each student a chance to show we are capable of anything," Serrano Serrano said. "Also for giving us so many chances and believing in us."