Friday, October 24, 2008

Leaders, families celebrate Los Robles graduates


Being a part of a graduating class of 19 students might not seem like a particularly earth-shaking occasion, but for the young men who stepped onto the stage in the County Education Office auditorium to receive their diploma from Los Robles High School, the moment will live in their memories for years.
After landing in the Los Prietos program headed by the county probation department, they took advantage of the second chance offered to them and became part of the second-largest graduating class from the high school.

“It hasn’t been easy, but we have succeeded,” graduate Ivan Romero told the crowd of beaming family members, friends and officials who gathered to celebrate the occasion yesterday. “I am proud to say I’m a high school graduate.”
With black, green and gold balloons lining the auditorium, the group of young men strode determinedly to the stage in their black robes and green tassels, breaking into quick grins when family members cheered or whistled.
As they took their seats, Fred Razo, the county’s director of court and community schools, stood at the podium to hail their accomplishments.
Perhaps most outstanding, he said, was their commitment to earn college preparatory units, racking up a total of 705 during their time at Los Robles.
“These young men took it upon themselves to extend their school day to earn those credits,” Razo said.
Now many have plans to attend a college and continue their education.
Graduate Joe Guzman, a Santa Maria resident, acknowledged that each student on the stage with him had a different past and a different life experience.
“But our paths have intertwined and we’re all on the path to success,” he said.
His path took a turn for the worse at age 10 when his father died. He gave up on life, he said, and lost interest in school.
But with the support of his grandparents, who took him in, Guzman decided to change his life for the better and worked for his diploma. Now he has plans to attend college, become a probation officer and return to the Los Prietos program to aid troubled young men.
County Superintendent Bill Cirone lauded the accomplishments of Guzman and his fellow students, acknowledging the barriers and obstacles they had to face down to earn their diplomas.
“You had a high school experience unlike any other, facing challenges that no one else could understand, and you have triumphed,” Cirone said.
Life will always pose challenges, he told the graduates, but what separates the winners from the others is the ability to bounce back and stand firm in the face of adversity.
“May this be the first step in a new direction that will lead to a lifetime of achievement, success and happiness,” he said.
Taking the stage next to address the audience, Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez described a bit of his personal history — particularly the fact that his first time in a squad car wasn’t spent in the front seat.
“Therefore, there’s no such thing as a bad kid, just bad decisions,” he said.
Sanchez also recognized the families and friends who have supported each graduate throughout the tough times in their lives, calling their role critical to the success of each student on the stage.
“We have to continue to give these young men hope, because when you take away hope, you take away everything,” he said.
Each graduate then picked up several yellow roses and slowly wound their way through the audience, handing them to people who have offered them the greatest support through the years.
Graduate Miguel Garcia, of Lompoc, described the role his mother played in his life. It wasn’t an easy life — his family only spoke Spanish and his mother had to work extremely hard to pay the bills.
Growing up, he never placed much importance on school. But when he found himself in the Los Prietos program, he said he realized something had to change.
“When I finally realized the value of an education, I had to work extra hard,” he said. “…It was hard and I stumbled, but I stood up and I persevered.”
In addition to their diplomas, many of the graduates received a $500 scholarship from local Rotary clubs to support their future educational endeavors.
They also received plenty of advice from those who spoke during the ceremony. Daniel Schradermeier, the teacher in charge at Los Robles, offered up a few simple yet eloquent words.
“Be happy, be wise, be kind and prosper,” he said. “Play and work hard, because it’s probably the only life you’ll have.”

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