Alejandra Rios, 18, donned cap and gown Wednesday evening to march across the stage with her classmates for Pioneer High School’s commencement ceremony.
But the high school senior is also a college freshman. Rios completed her high school requirements at the alternative high school in January and since has been studying to become a medical assistant at Career College of Northern Nevada in Sparks.
“I like my education, and I wanted to continue it,” Rios said. “I’m glad I got the opportunity to start early.”
Her experience is not singular, Principal Jason Zona said.
“A lot of our students are walking out with a degree and a college transcript,” he said.
Zona said that is one of the draws to the alternative high school, which graduated its largest class — 68 students — this year.
“People are hearing about our programs, and it’s becoming very popular,” he said. “The word is getting out that the staff is wonderful.”
While some students face adversity, that can serve to make them stronger.
Adrianna Vanegas, 18, struggled to find a formal dress to fit over her growing belly, she said. But at six months pregnant, she is determined to make her life a success.
“It motivated me more,” she said. “I want to do better for my baby.”
Vanegas already has begun work on earning her license to become a certified nursing assistant.
Orion Birdsell, 18, who said he “sucks at school,” found his niche at Pioneer High.
“I didn’t think I would make it,” he said. “If I didn’t go to Pioneer, I wouldn’t have graduated. This is amazing.”
He ships out in July to Fort Benning, Ga., to begin boot camp for the Army.
Zona said students from the class of 2013 are enlisting in all branches of the military and enrolling in colleges and universities nationwide. Five students earned advanced diplomas, and one earned an honors diploma. Six qualified for Nevada’s Millennium Scholarship, and two received private scholarships.
“We’re very proud of these young men and women,” Zona said.
Karen Stone, the student speaker, applauded her school and classmates.
“Pioneer is the only thing that has kept me afloat on the sea of life,” she said. “The students at this school have been through so much and worked so hard to be able to walk across this stage.
“While we are closing the end of our high school careers, we are celebrating the beginning of the rest of our lives.”