Sunbal Dishad, 17, spent the evening before graduation alone in her family's garage. She was practicing her valedictory over and over. She ran the speech by her sister, and blasted a radio to imitate the sounds of a restless crowd.
"I'm really nervous. I've never done this in front of a lot of people," she said. But after four years at Independence High School, she has nothing but good things to say about the school she already misses.
Independence High School is the only independent study school in the Lodi Unified School District. Students meet with teachers and in small groups a few times a week, but most of the classwork is done individually at home.
Dishad loved talking with her teachers and hearing their take on the world. They made her feel at home, she said.
"I'm still going to learn, but it's the atmosphere of school that I'll miss," she said. "I would like to thank all my teachers. I ask a lot a questions and they've always told me no question is ever stupid."
Dishad's twin passions are writing and science. She journals and writes short stories and poems. Sad songs on the radio don't make her feel sad. Instead, they spark ideas for stories. Right now, she's reading "The Fountainhead," which has inspired a series of poems, but she'd rather keep them to herself.
After graduation, Dishad plans to take a little time off from school and just relax. Then she'll finish her medical assisting program at Lincoln Technical Academy. Once she turns 18, she will apply for an internship through the school and go to San Joaquin Delta College. She wants to transfer to the University of California, Davis and major in biology, then apply to medical school.
"There's so much wonder in the world. It's so great to just be learning about it," she said.
Her parents Mohammed Rafique and Dishad Rafique live in Lodi, along with her sister, Rebecca Rafique, 15.
Dishad attended Needham School, then Lodi Middle School and Joe Serna Jr. Charter School for middle school before enrolling at Independence.
She is thankful for her dad and all the support he has provided over the years.
"He has always been there for me. He is super-dedicated to my education, and he will take me anywhere I need to go," she said.
She took inspiration for her speech from a poster she saw at the school on her first day. With nerves in her stomach from stories of high school courtesy of her older cousins, Dishad waited in the front office for her class list. Looking for anything to focus her mind on, she saw the poster.
The poster said, "Whatever you do, your attitude matters as much as your ability."
"I just loved that. I think when you really put your mind to something you just do it, I guess," she said.