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Valley Oak High School graduated 60 students Thursday, including nine from the program’s American Canyon High School campus.

Valley Oak, an alternative high school in the Napa Valley Unified School District, selected three students to address the crowd in the District Auditorium. The keynote speaker was Hugo A. Que, program manager with 10,000 Degrees, a nonprofit that helps students from low-income homes to enroll and complete college.

Student speaker Kurtis Avila described his classmates as “people who never gave up. I see fighters. I see the most amazing people I’ve ever met.”

“Most of us started here being kicked out of our home schools,” he said. “We all felt and know that pain ... we felt as if the battle between life and ourselves had struck a critical blow and we’d been knocked down and we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to get back up.”

“At some point we all felt as if we were not going to graduate,” Avila said, “but we made it! We kicked dirt into life’s face and got back up to fight one last time, then we did it.”

“The Class of 2019 is special,” Avila said. “The reason we are here is because we see the world in a different perspective. We don’t just accept or settle or just go with the flow. We question. We question everything that is brought upon us and that has given us our unique identities. This class will go on to do great things.”

Another student speaker, Nohemy Vallejo Rodriguez, said she wanted to remind classmates “of all the obstacles you had to go through to be here today.

“Many ignorant people think Valley Oak is a school for ‘bad students or for those who don’t care about education,’” she said. “But what these people don’t know is that our standards are a bit more challenging to meet than at a regular high school ...”

Barbara Nemko, the Napa County superintendent of schools, delivered the commencement’s congratulatory message, with principal Maria Cisneros introducing the class to the audience.

Shianne Marie Kelley was recognized as having the class’s highest GPA.

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City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.