Pleasanton Weekly

News - June 18, 2010

Pleasanton's 'other' graduates celebrate, too

Opportunities and challenges await Horizon, Village grads

by Glenn Wohltmann

While most of Pleasanton's class of 2010 was still getting ready for graduation -- putting the final touches on a speech, thinking about graduation parties or making final plans for the weekend -- two graduation ceremonies were being held.

One was for the 10 young women from Horizon, mothers and mothers-to-be who made the decision to stay in school.

"Horizon helped me get my head on straight," said Channing Stone, who graduated in a ceremony Wednesday at the district offices. "I know that I need to move ahead in life and get back on track for me and my baby."

Stone, the mother of 10-month-old Brighton, seems to have her head on pretty straight already. She's got a summer job at Gingerbread Preschool and will study early childhood development at Las Positas College this fall.

"I'm going to be a preschool teacher," she said.

The other graduation, held at the Amador Theater, was for 43 graduates from Village High School.

Graduations tend to be solemn affairs, full of pageantry and lofty statements. The graduation at Village High was a rowdy, raucous event, with laughter and even some unintended audience participation.

The students at Village were joyous and exultant in receiving their diplomas. And, while they may not be going to Harvard, many of them are headed to colleges, with others career-bound from the start.

When most people think of Village High, they think of "drug addicts, criminals, felons and losers," speaker Madison Schlick told the crowd.

"It is believed that Village is just a holding place for kids who are waiting to drop out," she said. "I'm proud to say that by being on stage tonight, we have proved that stereotype wrong. ... Everyone sitting behind me has gotten here by an extremely unique path, but the one thing we all have in common is that path has brought us to Village and we are graduating here tonight."

Schlick said people don't realize that many of the students at Village had problems that go beyond school: having to take care of their families, or those who've moved often or were homeless. She said all of them needed the support and encouragement that Village provides.

Like her fellow graduates, Schlick has high hopes for the future, with plans to attend junior college.

No one gets to Village by accident. Esperanza Vazquez, like most of the graduates, admitted she'd made some mistakes, mistakes that got her expelled from Amador Valley High School.

"I decided I couldn't go downhill from here, I just had to go uphill," Vazquez said. Now a graduate, she's headed to a culinary program at Diablo Valley College.

"I'm going to be a chef, own my own restaurant," she said.

Da'Ney Roberts is also headed to college. Roberts, who brought style to her gown by adding "Village High Class of 2010" in purple and white lettering, is off to San Francisco's Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

In a school of self-admitted class clowns, Joshua Belmer stands out. From his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the start of Village's commencement to the closing, students, staff and teachers hamming it up to a video of "Build Me Up, Buttercup," Belcher's personality was infectious.

He's had his own challenges.

"For about the first two years, I wasn't always staying at home. I made some bad decisions," Belcher explained. "I came to the realization that if I didn't get a high school diploma, I was never going to get anyplace in the world."

Belcher has some big dreams, to have a career as a basketball player or as a stand-up comedian. He's also got some responsibilities: He's the father of a 2-month-old baby girl, Haleigh.

For Belcher and for all the graduates, whether from Horizon or Village or Foothill High or Amador, what they make of the future is up to them.

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