Pierce is not the only one who is moved by the ceremony each year. Though graduating seniors at Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District's continuation school may not be bound for Ivy League schools, many in the class of 2011 do have college plans. That, in and of itself, is an achievement worthy of celebration, he said.
"In many respects, these are kids who weren't supposed to make it," Pierce said. "Not only did they make it, but they have a great launching pad to move forward."
Many students show up at Alta Vista more than a year behind, and some come from families where no one has yet earned a diploma, Pierce said. Still, more than 80 percent of students in this year's graduating class of 56 students have college plans of some kind.
For these reasons, Pierce said, the Alta Vista commencement ceremony is always emotionally charged. Additionally, because the small size of the graduating class, graduating seniors are asked to write a short address. These speeches are read by Alta Vista teachers at the ceremony before each student is officially presented a diploma.
The highly individualized graduation ceremony is consistent with how the school operates on the whole. "Our teachers are tenacious," Pierce said. "To the extent that they are able, they will not let a student fail."
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