Family members and friends of Alta Vista High School's graduating Class of 2023 filled the school's auditorium on Wednesday, June 7, for a ceremony that individually honored each of the 23 students who walked across the graduation stage.
As each student received their diploma, school staff read a reflection from that student about their time at Alta Vista. The event also included speeches from Principal Suzanne Woolfolk, school board President Phil Faillace and two students.
"There's not one single story that applies to all of your high school experiences. Your journeys here to graduation have been so very individual," Woolfolk said. "We are so proud of you, so proud of you – how far you've come, what you've achieved and where each one of you are headed."
As the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District's alternative school, Alta Vista is often where students are sent when they are behind in the credits needed to graduate. Other students voluntarily transfer because they prefer the smaller environment, Woolfolk told the Voice.
Students graduate throughout the school year as they fulfill their credit requirements. Thirty two students graduated this year, 23 of whom chose to participate in Wednesday's ceremony, Woolfolk said.
Diego Vera was among those graduates. He decided to transfer from Los Altos High School to Alta Vista his senior year so that he could graduate on time. At Alta Vista, Vera said that he received more support than he got on the larger campus, including in planning for college. Vera intends to go to a community college and is contemplating studying business or electrical engineering.
"I came here with an open mind and I was very glad that all the teachers here were very friendly, the people here were friendly. I made tons of new friends," Vera said.
The two students who spoke during the graduation ceremony also recounted their paths through high school, including the challenges they faced and the positive changes they experienced at Alta Vista.
Lavinia Pulu spoke about the impact the pandemic and distance learning had on her mental health. Pulu said that she developed depression and society anxiety, and reached a point where she didn't want to leave the house. The one thing that helped was music. Pulu began writing and producing songs to express how she felt.
During her junior year, she had fallen behind in her classes and was sent to Alta Vista. At her new school, Pulu said that she found a warm and welcoming community where she could make new friends and there were teachers who were easy to talk to. A conversation with her parents where they urged her to graduate is what ultimately motivated Pulu to focus on completing her studies.
"I’ve made it. We’ve made it," Pulu told her fellow graduates. "We all went through something that made us feel like we wouldn’t make it to this stage, but we got the push we needed from somewhere to complete our high school diplomas. That is worth celebrating."
The second student speaker, Anaiyah Talaga, shared her experiences with housing instability and the impact it had on her education. Talaga recounted secretly staying in vacant rooms at the hotel where her mom worked because they didn't have a place to live. When the hotel was full, they would sleep in the car.
The situation was stressful, Talaga said, and she didn't feel safe in the car alone. With schools closed because of the pandemic, Talaga didn't have the escape of in-person classes.
Re-enrolling in school was also a challenge, Talaga said, because her mom didn't have time to go and sign the necessary paperwork. When she and her mom ultimately found a place to live and her mom was able to enroll her in school, Talaga was behind in credits and was told she would need to go to Alta Vista.
The experience turned out to be a positive one. At Alta Vista, Talaga said that she realized she could succeed even if she faced setbacks.
"I learned that working hard and making sacrifices will pay off in the long run and I’ll achieve what I want in my life," Talaga said. "Alta Vista High School helped me get back on my feet and engage in school."