Students at Ortega High School, Keith McCarthy Academy, Southern California Online Academy, and Valley Adult School are a little different than the average group of high schoolers. For starters, some are well into middle age. Others were kicked out of their former high schools or fell behind in their studies.
But one thing unites them today: They earned a high school diploma and on Tuesday walked in their graduation ceremony at Ortega High School in Lake Elsinore.
Nearly 200 students from the four Lake Elsinore Unified School District alternative schools took part in the ceremony, and emotion ran high for some.
Graduating is “the first triumph in my life,” Class of 2012 Ortega High School graduate Josh Chavez told the audience gathered at the campus. A former Lakeside High School student, Chavez said he made some bad decisions that landed him in the alternative school.
“I had gotten good at one thing: lying. I lost so many good people because of my lying,” he said. “Some will never be able to forgive me.”
But time at an alternative school turned his life around, he said.
“Ortega is an amazing school. It’s a place for all sorts of rehabilitation,” he said.
Chavez has joined the U.S. Army and plans to obtain his Master’s degree in business.
“Dad,” he said, “I will make you proud.”
Ortega High School Class of 2012 grad Esteban Arenas was also appreciative of his time at Ortega. He came to the school during his junior year after “getting into trouble," which included drinking and smoking.
“I saw my friends getting incarcerated – even murdered,” he said.
Arenas knew he had to make a change.
“Opportunity was right in front of me,” he said, adding that during his two years at Ortega, he has “become a caring, social, and optimistic human being.
“I want to go to college. I will not forget this school,” he continued.
Sherri Anderson turns 50 this year. She choked back tears as she described her path to becoming a Class of 2012 Valley Adult School graduate.
Anderson should have graduated high school in 1979, but she had “trouble at home” and “wanted to be grown up.” After dropping out, she managed to land a few “demeaning” jobs – fast food, clerical.
She also became a drug addict and along the way had two children.
But something clicked in 2009.
“I wanted my diploma,” she told the audience.
Anderson needed 170 credits to graduate. A straight-A student at Valley Adult School, she proudly walked with her class Tuesday.
“Don’t ever give up,” she said.
Many of the students who graduated Tuesday thanked Principal Kathy Longe, who is retiring this year.
Longe, herself an alternative school graduate now renown for riding a Harley Davidson to campus, danced in the aisle with students Tuesday, and tearfully told them, “You have all been a part of my life.”