High schools all over Jefferson County are holding graduations through the end of May. For most of those graduating seniors, that diploma means a passage to the next stage of life.
For Alameda International High School seniors, graduation comes with even higher stakes.
Valedictorian Loc Tran described coming to the U.S. in his sophomore year, knowing only a few words of English. He described working hard to maintain a 4.0 GPA during his entire tenure at AIHS while learning English. Tran credits his friends and teachers with helping him get to the podium on graduation. He ended his speech with a few words in Vietnamese for his family in the audience.
This multilingual experience filled the day as students and families celebrated their cultures along with other achievements. These were represented by each student in the form of a stole. The stole is a special sash that’s worn around the graduate’s neck. It drapes down the front of the graduation gown. There were stoles emblazoned “First Generation” for the students who were the first to graduate in their families.
"The silver stole with blue trim is to represent first-generation graduates," explained Assistant Principal Marissa Duren. "These are students who are the first to graduate in their family. We had 48 this year. White stoles are for the students who completed the IB Diploma Program. Purple stoles are for the IB Career Pathway Program.”
The special sashes representing the students’ cultures were a bit different, according to Duren.
“The cultural 'Sarape' can be worn by any student and represents their country of origin," she said. "You might have seen the stole that is half Mexican flag and half American flag. These are worn by dual citizens. I would estimate about 60 students wore Sarapes on graduation day.”
The IB Diploma is the International Baccalaureate Diploma given to students who complete a special program while fulfilling the classes needed for a regular diploma.
"The IB Diploma Program is an intense college preparatory program designed to prepare students for college and life beyond high school," according to Duren.
She went on to say that the IB Diploma classes require students to complete “a Theory of Knowledge class, write a 4000-word research paper on a topic of their choice and set and meet goals around creativity, activity and service.”
It’s six extensive courses over two years.
Graduates wore the stoles, including those for IB Diplomas and the Sarapes with pride. However, for so many others, graduation held a much bigger meaning. From being the first to graduate to fulfilling a late parents’ dream, the class of 2023 has many additional reasons to celebrate.
Juan Lopez Garcia and Edwin Lopez Garcia are twin brothers who came from Guatemala. According to Duren, the twins completed their studies, with honors, including the IB Diploma, on their own.
“Their parents still live in Guatemala and due to circumstances beyond their control, they could not live with their relative here in Colorado. The boys have been living on their own and working the entire time to support themselves," she said. "This speaks to the drive and initiative of many of our students.”
Juan and Edwin said that their family, despite being at a distance, is their reason for working so hard to graduate. Both teens are first-generation graduates, another stole that hung around their necks on graduation day.
“It was like we opened a new season for our family," Edwin said. "Because maybe our parents or grandparents didn't have this opportunity to graduate.”
Both boys said that their diploma is for generations of family members who could not be there to see them walk.
Hailey Morgan described how her “squad” of teachers supported her and her needs throughout her time at AIHS.
“I've had really good teachers," she said.
Trinity Garcia shared that graduation, for her, means a promise fulfilled to her mom.
"My mom really wanted it for me," Garcia said. "She passed away in October of last year. And it was a really hard time for me. I knew that she wanted me to do this.”
According to Duren, Garcia is one of the career program graduates, students who completed certification for certain careers while also fulfilling the requirements of their diplomas.
Louis Mendoza-Quinones wore a Sarape representing Mexico, where his family comes from. According to Duren, Mendoza-Quinones was “a top student while attending both Warren Tech and Alameda.” Like Garcia, he is graduating with a career program distinction. The program is Pathways2Teaching.
Leo Avelino Gutierrez also completed the Pathways2Teaching program. He accomplished this while starting his junior year “with nary a credit to his transcript,” according to Duren.
Like the twins, Gutierrez said that graduation day is not just for him.
“Me being here today is me carrying my whole family with me today," he said. "And it's the same thing for when I'm going to go to college. Not a lot of them went to college, and a lot of them didn’t graduate high school. So, graduating (high school) is a big step for me and my family.”