To celebrate the achievements of the graduating class of 2021 at Alta Vista High School, a fully in-person event was held the sunny afternoon of Tuesday, June 8.
Balloons adorned the stage of the campus of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District's continuation high school and sets of chairs were arranged for families to sit together six feet apart apart from other families. Cupcakes were served afterward, heightening the atmosphere of celebration.
And while the event bore all the hallmarks of a traditional high school graduation, it also marked the local winding down of a global pandemic that forced significant disruptions to the traditional school model. In all, it helped to celebrate the resilience of a cohort of students who have overcome major obstacles to receive their high school diplomas.
"This was an extraordinary year for everyone," said Principal Bill Pierce in an interview. He described how the students had powered through their assignments through challenging odds. "Nothing was gifted," he said.
This class in particular faced additional difficulties and trauma after one of its members died in a car accident last year.
The small school environment at Alta Vista meant that staff and faculty there know the students very well and feel like they're launching these students into adulthood alongside their families, he added.
In a speech during the ceremony, academic advisor Lisa Falsetti praised the students for attaining their high school diplomas and encouraged them to use their power of choice to build the lives they want.
"You have the power to build the life that you want, because you're the one who makes the choices in your life," she said.
"You already know how to pivot to a different plan. You know how to jump over obstacles that stand between you and your goals. ...By exercising your power to choose, you became motivated. And because you were motivated, you started to do things you had never done before....This amazing chain of events all started with your choice: the choice you made to graduate. So graduates, please always remember your power and what you did to get to this day. Always remember it's your choices that drive your motivation...If you're feeling unmotivated, choose a different goal that gets you motivated."
Next, student speaker Yubis Martinez Tafolla, shared her personal journey toward the graduation podium, which involved a life-changing and traumatic year in which she lost her father and her best friend, battled substance abuse and spent two months in juvenile hall, she said.
She described a Spanish proverb her mother used to tell her: "El que con lobos se junta, aullar se ensena." Roughly translated, she explained, it means "gather with wolves and you learn how to howl."
She explained that the proverb means that the people you spend time with shape your behaviors, so it's important to choose one's friends wisely. It was also guidance she didn't always follow, she said.
"I never listened," she said. "My friends at the time had bad habits. Their problems became my problems, and it eventually led me into juvenile hall."
While there, she said, she described a time when her mother visited and she learned the awful news that her best friend, also a student at Alta Vista High School, had died in an accident on the freeway.
"The tears that fell from my eyes and that continue to fall are enough to hydrate the Atacama Desert," she said.
"I remember getting sent to Alta Vista my sophomore year and feeling so low about myself thinking I was less of a student than those at a traditional high school," she continued. "But as soon as I met the staff everything changed. It took me a little longer than others to get here today but I made it."
"All my life experiences have made me more determined to reach my fullest potential," she said, adding that she has now been 16 months sober. "We all came to Alta with potential, but the staff helped us believe in ourselves. "
The school's 2021 candidates for graduation were:
Alex Garcia Hernandez*
Ivan Garcia Ortiz
Noah (Ryn) Keeney*
Jorge Lopez Ramos
Yubis Martinez Tafolla
Damian Meza Mercado
Nayda Ochoa Mozo
Hestoyco Ortiz Mejia
Edgar Rios Cruz
Daniela Rosas Arista
Brandon Soriano Avila*
* did not appear onstage during the graduation ceremony.
Mentors, scholarship donors, vendors and friends highlighted for thanks in making possible the students' successes in the event program included: MVLAUHSD Board of Trustees, Advent Group Ministries, Community Health Awareness Council, Community Services Agency, Cops and Gobblers- MVPD, Dudley Vehmeyer Brown Memorial Foundation, Fresh Lifelines for Youth, Kiwanis Club of Mountain View, Los Altos Community Foundation, Lucile Packard Adolescent Mobile Health Services, Los Altos Kiwanis, Los Altos Rotary, MVLA Food Services, Mountain View-los Altos Foundation, Mountain View Police Department, Mountain View Rotary and Mentor Tutor Connection.