High school seniors in blue and white graduation gowns took to the stage in the Charlene Lange Theater at Hutchins Street Square on Thursday to celebrate completing a diploma some thought was out of their reach.
“When a student comes to Liberty, they don’t always feel like a winner,” said Liberty High School Principal Tami Somera, addressing the students and their families. Today, however, that feeling has changed.
Fifty-four students earned either a high school diploma or a certificate of completion from Lodi Unified School District’s only credit recovery campus during a brisk ceremony.
“Graduation is not the end, but the beginning; the start of your future,” Somera said.
Many of Liberty’s students have walked a difficult path to reach this milestone, Somera said. Some have lost parents to death or addiction, while others work full-time jobs or care for family members while taking classes. A few are the first in their family to attend high school, or have transferred to and from several schools during their 13 years of education.
But each student stood up tall with a proud smile to see their family and friends in the audience.
“Each of them has a colorful story. They are valuable, beautiful, young people,” she said, growing slightly emotional. “They are champions.”
Four students who signed on to join the military — Alex Wong, Eric Hinton, Anthony Vargo and Dallas Manka — led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. Somera presented four scholarships, then introduced the student speaker.
Valedictorian Gerardo Molinero-Dimas was soft-spoken but impassioned as he spoke words of inspiration to his fellow graduates. The tall young man described students both as statues of marble being carved over time, and the sculptors, too.
Molinero-Dimas has attended 11 schools in three different states in his quest to reach high school graduation, due to his family moving repeatedly. He said he never felt motivated to succeed before attending Liberty High School.
“You hear people say bad kids go to Liberty. No, the bad kids drop out. The kids who graduate from Liberty work hard,” he said. “We stand before our families today to prove that no matter how high the mountain, we will climb it.”
Tyler Moreno wrote a song called “Diamond Eyes” for his graduating class, and performed it as a guitar duet with Dylan Lewis, who will graduate next year.
Teacher Steve Jordan read out the name of each grinning graduate as they shook hands with Somera and posed for a quick photo.
The Class of 2013 exited the theater to a recording of “We are the Champions” by Queen before joining their families out on the courtyard for photographs.
Vincent Dahl, 19, held a massive cluster of balloons as he posed for pictures with his mom and dad.
“I’m excited that I’m finally done with high school,” he said. “I’ve jumped through all the hoops I have to jump through to have a worthwhile life.”
Maria Ortiz, 19, was trying to calm the adrenaline she felt before standing on-stage with her class.
“My favorite part was getting excited for it and walking on the stage with all the lights on us,” she said. “It’s just about finishing, moving on with life.”
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.