Graduations from Mountain View School always consist of both tears and laughter, and Tuesday's ceremony in Centreville High's auditorium was no exception.
SIXTY SENIORS received their diplomas during the winter 2006 event, and the sentiments expressed by students, teachers and administrators were truly heartfelt. For here, at this school of second chances, students who've overcome adversity reach the potential that, often, even they didn't realize they had.
Kevin McMurtry, one of three student speakers Tuesday, attributed it to what he called the "Mountain View miracle." For within this school's walls, he said, "Small groups of committed individuals can change the world and help you realize who you are and who you can be."
Agreeing, Jim Oliver said it's "a great honor and privilege to be the principal of this fine institution." Addressing the graduating seniors, he told them one chapter in their life was closing, but many more have yet to be written.
Before coming to Mountain View, he said, the chapters of some students' lives contained stories about not being understood, seeking independence, hating life and being in a world of trouble that perplexed both them and their families. And for some, motherhood caused a tremendous upheaval.
"But with support from your families and Mountain View, the final sentence [of your stories] was always joy and happiness," said Oliver. "A lot of people thought you wouldn't be sitting here today. But let's rip that chapter right out of your book of life!"
He said all the students, teachers, counselors and administrators there "had to write equal parts" of each student's story. But, he stressed, "Your story is not over, as you proceed on to college, the military and the workforce. When things get tough or discouraging for you, reread those chapters that have guided you to be your very best. Congratulations, and good luck to all of you in your future endeavors."
MOROCCAN NATIVE Meriem Moussaif was the first student speaker, and she said both she and her father are glad that she's come so far in her life: "My father always told me he'd be the happiest person on the face of the earth if I got my high-school diploma."
She said she's also thankful for freedom of speech. "Morocco is a beautiful country," said Moussaif. "However, I wasn't always able to express myself [there], and I was punished for saying what I thought. At Mountain View, people are treated with respect, no matter what their opinion is or how old they are."
She acknowledged her teachers and counselors for giving her the opportunity and encouraging her to become the person she is today. "And I thank Mr. Oliver — the best principal in the world — for looking after me like his own daughter," she said. Tears spilling from her eyes, she also thanked Assistant Principals Fran Bedont and Ellen McCarthy for "really understanding and listening to me and giving me a second chance."
Student speaker Yomaira Carrera spoke about her grandmother's love and how upset she was when her grandmother became ill, went to Peru and died. "I thought my heart would stop," she said. "I was mad that she died and I couldn't be there to say goodbye."
After that, she said, she didn't care about school anymore. But she knew her grandmother wouldn't like that, so she got her life back on track. Then things took a turn for the worst and she ended up at Mountain View — which actually gave her a new beginning.
"At first, I was afraid to come here," said Carrera. "But I learned that it's a school full of great people who helped me develop as a person. I got a second chance to start fresh. And without everyone's help here, I wouldn't be where I am today. I see the mistakes I made and I learned from them ... and I'm ready to continue on with my life."
Speaker McMurtry originally attended another school, but decided to drop out and join the military. "But even it didn't want me without a GED, so I did nothing," he said. "I started drinking and doing drugs and pushing away everyone that mattered. But my mom, dad and brother revived my future and saved my sanity."
Then, he said, he came to Mountain View and it worked its magic on him. To loud whoops and applause from the audience, he said, "This faculty is, straight up, the best faculty anywhere. Every experience I've gone through here has played a crucial part in shaping my character."
MCMURTRY SAID finishing his high-school education is "probably the most important thing I've ever done, and I know it's the same way for a lot of you." Then, to the world at large, he added: "And for all you guys that doubted us, how do you like us now?"
Both Moussaif and Jessica Albrecht received Citizenship Awards, and Daphne Twu, Sahar Sherzai and Erika Westin were given Personal Achievement Awards. Honored with Faculty Excellence Awards were Edrise Babee and Vanessa Rivas Marquez.
Guidance counselor Jim Lockwood described Babee as a highly motivated student with a 4.0 GPA and a leader adept at team building. "He always displays a level of maturity and wisdom beyond his years, but he hasn't lost the enthusiasm of youth," said Lockwood.
He said Babee "navigated through some dark and challenging storms ... and his courage, determination and citizenship mark [him] as a person who'll make significant achievements in life." Clearly, said Lockwood, Babee truly exemplifies German poet Goethe's statement that "people reach excellence not in quiet places, but in the full current of human life."
As for Rivas Marquez, ESOL teacher Carole Mauro said she watched her develop into the accomplished woman she is today. "Learning another's language is a full-time occupation, while finding your place in a new country and culture," explained Mauro. "But she became a creative writer, an excellent researcher and a critical thinker."
To Rivas Marquez, she said, "We thank you for teaching us what determination, perseverance, kindness and success are all about. It is with great pride that I present you with the Faculty Excellence Award."