PORTAGE | A new day dawned Friday evening for 62 high school graduates at the first commencement ceremony at New Vistas High School in Portage.
Graduates of the charter school operated by Neighbors’ Educational Opportunities Inc. wore blue and white commencement robes and marched to their seats amid applause and cheers from families and friends at Woodland Park’s Oakwood Grand Hall.
The school, which opened in September 2012, is open to those who want to earn their high school diploma or GED but also attracts students seeking an alternative to the traditional high school setting.
“There’s a lot of positive feelings knowing that students are getting their diplomas with us, where they didn’t have the opportunity to do so before,” said Donald Knotts, New Vistas principal. “I’m very happy for all the graduates. Many have overcome adversity to be where they are now.”
NEO Executive Director Rebecca Reiner congratulated the class.
“Your perseverance, your dedication, your commitment to this evening have brought you here,” Reiner said. “I see you as people who stand proudly now.”
Knotts told the students it was “an honor and a privilege” to serve as the school’s first principal.
“You have all proven that you can be successful, and I am proud of you,” Knotts said.
Cautioning the students that they will meet challenges ahead, guest speaker and teacher Shaunna Finley recalled her own post-high school graduation plans 23 years ago.
“I was going to be an actress and a millionaire in five years,” Finley said. “Life didn’t turn out quite the way I planned. But I don’t regret it a bit. I haven’t failed. ... I adapted.”
Graduate Jorge Ramirez, 21, found New Vistas to be more welcoming than his previous high school, where he said he received D's and F's.
“They actually care about students and take the time to help us out,” Ramirez said. “I made straight A's and B's.”
Ramirez, who holds two jobs, will travel a bit before he determines his future path.
Nicholas Brown, 18, already has taken his SATs and is planning to attend college and study engineering.
“I’ll see what colleges will take me,” Brown said.
Ashley Casolare, who earned her GED in October 2012, will enroll at Purdue University North Central in the fall to study early childhood education.
“I want to become a teacher,” Casolare said. “I loved kids forever and have wanted to teach for a very long time.”
"It’s a tough world out there,” Finley said, but she's confident the graduates are up to the challenge.
“You’ve already taken the steps to build a more promising future,” she said. “It’s not the diploma that counts but what you learned along the way.”