Lopez was one of 60 members who turned their red tassels in celebration of obtaining high school degrees at the ceremony at Woody’s Hall at Woodbury University. Monterey High is a continuation school whose students have left previous schools because they fell behind in credits or because of other factors such as attendance or behavior, Principal Ann Brooks said.
“These students are so unique because they don’t have a normal life and despite all that, they have made it,” said Rosie Rodriguez, a teacher at the school’s children’s center. “We have made so many friendships with the students, they are all so sweet and we are so attached to them.”
The children’s center provides child care for students who are parents. This year, eight graduates are mothers, Rodriguez said.
“Despite the fact that these girls are also moms and have to care for their children, they still finished school,” Brooks said. “They have overcome so many obstacles.”
Graduate Jennifer Lopez, 18, said the school’s teachers made her feel that her goal of becoming a fashion designer was attainable.
“The teachers here really care about you, I had never had that experience before,” she said. “They made me push myself to complete my credits.”
Before joining the procession line, fellow graduate Kelsey Jackson, 18, beamed with excitement over receiving three scholarships to help her attend Los Angeles Trade Technical College and study culinary arts
“I had no idea I was getting them . . . I am so happy,” she said. “In the past, I ditched school all the time . . . but when I came to Monterey, I started getting A’s and B’s.”
But other students were more hesitant about moving on from high school.
“I am so scared because in school, teachers are always protecting you,” said Art Asheghian, 18, who hopes to become a registered nurse. “They have always been there for us . . . and now we are facing the real world,” he said.
Monterey High officials allows any student to address the audience from the stage during graduation.
Allen Villañeda took the opportunity to praise his fellow graduates for their dedication.
“I thank Monterey for our second chance at success,” he said. “Even though these students were behind in credits, they did not despair and instead, had the courage to finish.”
Graduate Kenia Garcia said she was nervous to attend Monterey High, but the school became like a second home to her, she said.
“When I started here, everyone was so nice, they talked to you like they knew you for years,” Garcia said. “I started to feel like I was in a family.”