Saying goodbye and moving on

Nobody knows the troubles they've seen.

But they pushed forward and got their high-school diplomas on Thursday in a graduation ceremony that rocked to The Who's "Baba O'Riley" and U2's "Beautiful Day."

Nearly 200 students from Back Bay and Monte Vista high schools took that defining, life-altering walk to accept their high school diplomas before a capacity crowd inside Estancia High School's gym with the hoops raised high to clear the way.

Photographs of each the students were flashed on a big screen in what had to have been one of the coolest, goose bump-producing, seven-minute musical presentations for miles.

Before that, Isabella Chavez and Blair Camarillo sang a beautiful rendition of "Lean On Me," long a theme song for at-risk students.

And let there be no mistake about it: Some of these students stared straight into the face of real-life risks, not just academic, during their early childhood, leading them to the doorsteps to the pair of continuation schools.

But that was then; this is now.

Hundreds of family members in the crowd cheered, then hushed as some of the commencement speakers approached the podium, spoke their piece on what academic and social lives were like inside the tight-knit corridors of both high schools before getting down to the nitty-gritty.

"One in five students in California drop out from high school," said Jessica Paek, a Monte Vista student who will attend the University of the Pacific in Stockton in the fall. "The fact that we're standing here today is a testament to our hard drive and our hard work. Remember: 'Savor what you see. Things may not seem important now, but they will be tomorrow.'"

While Monte Vista is a high school that focuses on independent studies and allows students to graduate from high school pretty much by working around their own schedules, Back Bay is strictly for teens who've struggled with in the curriculum of mainstream high schools due to work or personal circumstances.

And amid this backdrop, the students found a home away from home — at both schools.

"It just goes to show you that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything," said Lewis Williams, a top student who attended both Monte Vista and Back Bay and is now headed for Orange Coast College, where he plans to study biological sciences and become a medical doctor.

Brianna Galipeau, who would like to become a paralegal, said when she enrolled at Back Bay, she wasn't "just enrolling at a school, but a community."

"I couldn't have done it without the faculty, my friends, my family and my boyfriend," she said, adding that her mother provided her with the inspiration to succeed.

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