As the first person to graduate in his family, Felipe Garcia encouraged his fellow Independence High School classmates to keep growing on Thursday.
“We’ve done it all, from learning to write our names in kindergarten to algebra in eighth grade to the drama of high school,” Garcia said.
He joined 107 other students at McNair High School to celebrate completing the independent study school.
Some students had children at a young age; some could not attend a traditional high school because of cultural differences; and some struggled in a typical classroom setting. All have their own story of how they persevered.
Twenty of the graduates, including valedictorian Shahida Ismail and salutatorian Sidra Khan, were the first ones to graduate in their families.
“It feels great. My family is too excited. I’m really proud to make my parents happy,” Khan said.
As the graduates took the stage, many of them waved at parents, wiped tears from their eyes and cheered. Five students greeted the audience in Urdu, Spanish, Japanese and English.
Principal Dr. Carol Owens said the students overcame many obstacles to get to this day, and encouraged them to keep striving.
“Catch that star that shines in your heart, and it will lead you to your destiny,” Owens said.
Speaker Sana Riaz said she has enjoyed learning about different countries, religions and other topics she might not have otherwise explored.
“Many of us have discovered that learning can be fun and exciting, which has led us to try new things,” Riaz said.
Student Ja Nae Brody sang “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack, and teachers handed out awards for students who excelled in a variety of subjects, like music, math and computer science.
As students crossed the stage, family members ran up to give them bouquets of flowers and crouched to capture the moment on cameras.
Outside of the theater, Weston Garrison posed with his parents for a photograph. He said high school was fun, but he was ready for it to end. He said Independence High was a good fit.
“The teachers are more on topic and able to give you more time,” Garrison said.
Family members and friends surrounded Tomas Garica while he held a bunch of balloons. Garica transferred to Independence High School in his junior year after falling behind in his classes.
His mother, Martha Gonzalez, cried during the entire ceremony.
“Without Independence, he wouldn’t have been able to graduate,” she said.
Now, Garcia plans to go to San Joaquin Delta College and then University of the Pacific to study pharmacy.
“I feel like I have a lot of responsibilities on my hands,” he said. “I feel accomplished.”