Graduation for these students is particularly sweet

Robert Vasquez was always told he was going to fail.

“As long as I can remember I was getting into trouble at school,” Vasquez said. “I was always ditching class.…Back then I didn’t care if I was going to graduate. All that mattered to me was having fun.”

After some frank conversations with his high school counselor, he enrolled at Advance Path Academy, an alternative school for students struggling to keep pace academically with their peers. And on Thursday, Vasquez stood before several hundred people at First United Methodist Church in Glendale and did what some told him he would never do — collect his high school diploma.

“I want to thank my mom and my dad for never giving up on me, even though at times I had given up on myself,” Vasquez said.

The commencement was a combined event that included Glendale Unified’s three alterative education programs. In addition to Advance Path Academy, the programs include Daily High School and Verdugo Academy.

Each offers a flexible, supportive learning environment for students who — for diverse reasons including athletic and professional pursuits, family problems and parenthood — are unable to succeed in a traditional school setting.

Each of the 131 graduates had their own stories, but were united in their determination to get an education, school officials said.

“All of these kids have had to face obstacles that most of our children will never know,” said Glendale Unified school board member Mary Boger. “And they have succeeded in the face of those obstacles.”

Verdugo Academy graduate Inessa Kesumyan, 18, said the school allowed her to pursue a competitive ice skating career while simultaneously finishing the credits necessary to earn her diploma.

“I think it was a good option because I did choose figure skating over the high school experience, but … it is not like I completely missed out,” Kesumyan said.

Elvis Alvarado, 18, credited Daily High School with getting him back on track after a difficult two years at Crescenta Valley High School. He will start at Pasadena City College in the fall where he plans to study to become an X-ray technician.

“My freshman and sophomore year, when I was doing bad, I didn’t think I was going to graduate,” Alvarado said.

Stephanie Bitanga, 19, dropped out of school two years ago intending to earn her GED. But dreams of becoming a nurse prompted her to enroll at Advance Path Academy and complete the high school requirements.

She plans to enroll at Mount St. Mary’s College next year.

“It feels like I finally accomplished something,” Bitanga said. “I focused on my work and I got it done.”

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