Like birds who have grown strong and are ready to leave the nest, 195 Liberty Ranch Hawks graduated as the school's first-ever class Friday, but Principal Brian Deis reminded the students they could always come back for a visit.
"Class of 2012, know that you are special," he said in his address to the graduates. "Think of Liberty Ranch as home, and as long as I'm principal, know that you are always welcome home."
The students started their high school careers at Galt High, but moved to Liberty Ranch as 10th-graders when it opened in 2009. The school was open to freshmen and sophomores only at first, and subsequent grades were added in 2010 and 2011. On Friday, the senior class officers recalled the decision students faced about transferring to the new school or remaining at Galt High.
"We were never really sophomores or juniors at Liberty Ranch, but always seniors," class officer Samuel Meyers said before a packed house at Memorial Auditorium. "We worked hard to build traditions."
Among those traditions were performing funny skits or silly dances at every rally that exemplified the school's spirit, students reminisced during the ceremony.
Many speakers fondly recalled their peer, Taylor Steele, who lost her battle against ovarian cancer last August, days before what would have been her senior year. She had already been elected student body president.
A mural will be erected in her honor as one of the Class of 2012's gifts to the school.
"We began to build the foundation that became Liberty Ranch," Meyers said, adding that Steele was there alongside her fellow students and helped make junior prom the best.
The same year, according to Meyers, the school saw a large number of female teachers through their pregnancies, and a total of 12 babies were born to them last school year.
It was also that year that teacher Devon MacLeod had a conversation with Anthony Tiapon about the path he was headed down to become this year's valedictorian. When asked how he felt, the student said he wouldn't mind the title but he really didn't want to give a speech, MacLeod told the packed auditorium.
In his speech Friday, Tiapon also noted that Steele helped shape Liberty Ranch, before turning his remarks to the students donned in green and seated before him.
"We made the choice to come here and make this place our own," he said.
Senior class adviser Angela Schroeder's speech made some laugh and others cry, as she pointed out the life lessons students learned at Liberty Ranch had a purpose. She, too, said that the graduating seniors were welcome back anytime.
"We are your Hawk family. We'll be there for you, although that does not mean you can call us on our cellphones from college at 3 a.m. and ask for help on that English paper," she said. "You will be strong because you have 'steele' running through your veins."
Conversations began last year regarding where the Class of 2012's inaugural graduation would be held, since Liberty Ranch does not have a lighted field. Students and administrators did not want to use Warrior Stadium, since they are not Galt High students, so the district narrowly approved the out-of-town affair.
Although buses transported students to practice at the Sacramento auditorium, they were deemed unnecessary for Friday's ceremony, according to Deis.