Students at Independence High School spend less time with their classmates in their four years of secondary education than students at any other high school in Lodi.
But on Thursday, they were united as graduates of the Class of 2013. The McNair High School auditorium in Stockton was decked out with red, white and blue balloons to match the blue and white commencement gowns and red sashes worn by all 150 graduates of the independent study high school.
“Now is your time to really do something,” said principal Carol L. Owens. “What will you do to make this world more awesome?”
She invoked author J.K. Rowling, whose manuscript of “Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone” was repeatedly rejected before a publisher picked it up.
“If she had given up, we would never have met Harry Potter,” said Owens. “You cannot give up. What will be your ‘Harry Potter’?”
Graduating senior James Ruff led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. Ted Pickell, a senior at the Conservatory of Performing Arts at the University of the Pacific, performed the National Anthem, as well as the senior song. The class selected “Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha” to represent their time as students of Independence High School.
Instead of a speech from valedictorian Obaid Rehman, the ceremony included remarks from three students.
Nicole Mobley spoke of her transition to independent study in ninth grade.
“I wasn’t bullied any more, and I’ve made great friends here,” she said, then tearfully thanked her mother for pushing her when she wanted to give up. “Happy graduation, Class of 2013. We made it.”
Speaker Tina Vo, who also won an award in mathematics, joked about her school’s schedule of classes.
“It’s every student’s dream to go to school only once or twice a week,” she said.
Hanana Rashid rounded off the speeches with a look back at the road the students walked to arrive at graduation.
“Our lives have changed so much,” she said. “We are not those lost, confused freshmen anymore. We are now young adults ready to face the world.”
Owens recognized several award winners, including Daysia Floyd, who won a scholarship and the Golden State Seal of Merit for her scores on the annual state tests. The principal also acknowledged six students who were the first in their families to graduate from high school.
Next, the moment the graduates were waiting for: Each name was read, diplomas handed over, and handshakes shared. The Class of 2013 turned their blue and white tassels, and left the auditorium to the sound of cheering family and friends.
Outside, graduates and parents searched for one another in the crowd.
Jose Charco, 19, said it was thrilling to be part of the center of attention.
“I’m just excited,” he said. “It’s something different, with everyone looking at me.”
Kiana Torres, 17, was soaking in the moment.
“We made it; we’re finally here,” she said. “It feels so real, now. We’re graduates.”
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.