Thirty-one seniors from Orange Coast Middle College High School's final graduating class received their diplomas on Wednesday to the thunderous applause of several hundred people in the audience.
It was a tearful experience for many, including alumni who attended the event in the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College.
The high school, which affords students the opportunity to earn college credits at OCC, opened in 1996. But due to cutbacks, the school was forced to close in order to save the Newport-Mesa Unified School District $800,000 at a time when the state is withholding billions of dollars in funding for various school districts.
Although the decision to shutter the unique high school was made last year, it finally came to pass Wednesday as students, dressed in the customary gaps and gowns, accepted their diplomas from their principal, Bob Nanney.
For the eight years he has served as principal, Nanney has been making some sort of speech to the graduating class.
"It's not what happens to you so much, but how you respond to what happens to you," said Nanney while instructing the students to "be clear about your goals" and to "resist the temptations" that might hurt friends or family.
"But most of all," he added, "keep your mind open."
That's not difficult to do when you're dealing with the seniors at this particular high school, which has operated on the Costa Mesa community college campus since its inception.
It's always been a popular receptacle to particular students interested in getting away from the traditional mainstream high school experience and earn college credits while doing so.
Samantha Smith, the valedictorian, advised her fellow students to listen to the words of Helen Keller, who once said, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."
"Shoot for the moon," Smith said. "Even if you miss, you'll still hit the stars."
And so many of them shot for the moon over the course of the last two years, even if they were going to be the final two years for the school, which starts students in their junior years.
As they walked across the stage, they all had something to say for themselves, which they wrote in advance and displayed on the wall using PowerPoint.
"Catch the winds of trade and explore the world," read one slide, quoting Mark Twain.
Another quoted Bob Marley with, "Don't gain the world and lose a soul/Wisdom is better than silver or gold."
Artist Marc Chaggal was also cited: "If I create for the heart, nearly everything works."
And then there's this one, made up by the student himself: "You know what? I'm going to a party, and I walked out."
But in the long run, it's all about taking responsibility for shaping their future lives, said Nanney, concluding his speech.
"I'm going to leave you with my favorite quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, which I do every year," he said. "And she said, 'In the long run we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. ...Ultimately, the choices we make are our responsibility.' "