With pride and bittersweet tears, the graduating classes at Allan F. Daily High School and Verdugo Academy celebrated their successes, during a cozy, touching ceremony in an auditorium at the First United Methodist Church, located across the streets from the schools, Tuesday afternoon.
For many of the 84 graduating students, the milestone was the result of years of survival and strength.
With a smaller student-teacher ratio, both schools are designed to serve students in need of extra guidance.
In many ways, the schools provide a second chance for students who don’t do well in a traditional school setting or have dealt with personal setbacks, which make it difficult to succeed.
“In my sophomore year, one of my best friends passed away in a tragic car crash, and I didn’t think I’d be able to recover. I couldn’t get myself to go to school,” said Daily graduate Sara Fazeli, president of the school’s Associated Student Body for multiple trimesters.
“I needed that second chance. Daily was my start over,” Fazeli said as she smiled and thanked her teachers and parents for “allowing her to learn” from her mistakes.
While Fazeli’s compelling story is one of many, principal Lonny Root said the schools serve as a major support system — a safe haven — for those who struggle.
“[They] arrive to orientation, not sure how they could possibly graduate but they know they want to and hope that this dream can come true,” Root said.
“Quickly, they learn how our teachers care about them and will push them to accomplish the things they didn’t or couldn’t in the past,” he added, “When they realize that they can, you can see this in their faces and in their attitudes. They walk a little differently; they talk a little differently.”
To further show their encouragement toward students, Daily High and Verdugo Academy officials honored scholarship recipients from both schools and later recognized Aaron Houghton and Taylor Hoogenhuizen with Student of the Year awards for each institution, respectively.
Houghton said he feels that Daily has been his “one true home” and that “after many years of struggles and pain,” he can wake up for school with a smile on his face.
Counselor Allie Akobian said the students have shown commitment to their education, community and families.
“It is an honor to have [them] as part of our Daily and Verdugo Academy families,” Akobian said.
To honor the dedication of teachers and staff, Root named Brenda Janairo as Teacher of the Year, while school therapist Eduardo Seminario received the Classified Employee of the Year Award.
As the commencement ceremony continued, Shant Sahakian, clerk of the Glendale Unified school board, addressed the graduating class, commending their victorious spirit.
“Each of you had a unique path to get here and many challenges that perhaps [aren’t] typical of [Glendale Unified] students, but the most important thing is that you persevered, Sahakian said.
“You are resilient, you are battle-tested and you were successfully able to get to this very important destination,” he added.
Along with their diplomas, each student was given a rose to give to a person who supported and inspired them to push forward, despite their personal circumstances.
“We’ve all had our ups and downs, our twists and turns,” said Jaxson Stehlin, a graduate of Verdugo Academy. “The tough times won’t stay, but tough people will always remain.”