"Many of you have been through so much at Alta Vista," Dowling told the grads at the ceremony held on Wednesday, May 30. "May this graduation be to you a righting of a wrong, a restoration, the winning of a race and the binding of wounds, defining what was once lost to you."
Alta Vista High School is often described as an important backstop for students struggling in a traditional high school setting, with smaller classes and personalized support to keep students on track for a high school diploma. At any point they could decide to drop out or settle for a GED certificate, but they worked hard to make the grade, said Alta Vista principal Bill Pierce.
"One of the students on stage was 20 and he had challenges, but was super focused and said, 'I gotta get this done,'" Pierce said. "And at this school, of course, it's not always four years and you're done."
Unlike traditional graduations, Alta Vista's May 30 ceremony was more intimate, held indoors with boisterous cheers from families and parting words from each senior about inspiring mentors, words of wisdom and plans for the future. This year was a little different — none of the students chose to give the keynote speech — but each graduate certainly has a story to tell.
Pierce said some of the graduates had joined Alta Vista in their senior year, realizing they probably wouldn't be able to graduate without a helping hand, while others have attended since freshman year and couldn't part ways with the school and its small-scale, personal environment. Close to half the students are self-referred at the continuation high school.
"Two of the graduates were homeless most of their high school career," Pierce said. "Their living situation was so tenuous, and yet they persevered."
Dowling told graduates that she, herself, was somewhat of an outcast in high school, and was neither a great athlete nor a high-achieving student. But she encouraged students to remember that school may not showcase their particular strengths, but it opens doors for them to thrive in the future.
"Just because you may not shine in school or compete on the athletic field does not mean you won't shine in life," she said. "I see you, and I am blinded by your brilliance."
Even though the path to high school graduation may have been more rocky for students at Alta Vista, Dowling said that doesn't make them failures — it means they had to work harder for it, and makes the diploma all the more valuable.
Many of the students said they had plans to head off to Foothill and De Anza community colleges, preparing for careers in subjects like studio art and computer science, or laying out plans to become a firefighter. Students were able to earn scholarships exceeding $15,000 from the Mountain View and Los Altos rotary clubs and Kiwanis clubs, as well as the Dudley Vehmeyer Brown Memorial Foundation.
Each graduate is required to have a solid post-graduation plan, with a cover letter, references, registration for college, job applications and Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applications at the ready, which Pierce said puts students on a trajectory to succeed after high school.
"We really try to bridge that gap between high school and college," he said.
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