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Graduates of Willmar ALC cross the stage to cheers from crowd

Maria Gutierrez holds her daughter Magdalena Carr on Friday following the graduation ceremony of Area Learning Center students in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR — Twenty-five students graduated Friday afternoon from the Willmar Area Learning Center.

That’s the highest graduate total in several years. Eighteen of 25 graduates attended the ceremony. Faculty members said several of the graduates were unable to attend, including some who are already working or in college. Some years, just a handful of graduates receive their diplomas from the small alternative high school.

The size of the graduating class never matters to the crowd in the Willmar Education and Arts Center auditorium.

The announcement of each graduate in red cap and gown signals a chorus of cheers, applause and camera flashes.

Tony Gerrero Jr. was the fourth member of his family to graduate from the ALC when he walked across the stage Friday. His parents and two of his three sisters were there.

Mom Paula and dad Tony Sr. said they were proud and happy. Graduating from high school was “the one thing I asked of them as a mother,” she said.

“All the teachers were so nice” at the ALC, Paula Gerrero said. “They worked with me and my husband; they kept us in touch with everything.”

More traditional schools are not for everyone, Paula Gerrero said. “They were just more comfortable (at the ALC).”

Linda Bahe, director of alternative programs, introduced the class and said, “The word that comes to mind is perseverance.”

Some of the students may have felt like giving up when things were difficult, but they kept going, she said.

After the ALC Choir sang, Bahe said the refrain of the song, “by your side and in your heart,” was appropriate for the ALC.

“As you leave the ALC and go on with your lives, remember we are by your side,” she said. The ALC is like a family, she added, and she urged graduates to come back for a visit now and then.

Willmar School Board Chairman Mike Carlson spoke to the graduates. He said he had planned to speak to them as a fellow graduate of Willmar’s schools, but he changed his mind as he thought about his own son graduating this spring, too.

“I’m going to speak to you as a dad,” he said.

Carlson told them to celebrate their accomplishment before they move on to the next chapter of their lives.

It’s important to set goals, including some that are difficult to attain, he said.

Carlson advised them to be open to new experiences and new people, to broaden their friendships. “We look forward to the young men and women you’re going to be,” he said.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard closed the commencement with remarks about the value of a high school diploma. With a diploma, they will be able to earn more money, drive better cars and build better lives for their families,

“The value of your diploma is something you will get and gain throughout your life,” he said.

“Congratulations,” he said. “Have a great life, smile a little bit, don’t let things get you down.”

Graduate Mary Holguin was the recipient of a $500 scholarship from the Willmar Civic Scholarship Association.

At a reception after the commencement, Holguin talked about how pleased she was. She has a 3-year-old son Izaiah and a 10-month-old daughter Audrey.

High school was hard with two kids, she said, “but I had to get up and I had to go, because I have to do it for them.”

Holguin said she did work hard, but she also gave credit to her teachers. “I loved all my teachers,” she said, and they wouldn’t let her give up.

Her plan is to go to Ridgewater College in the fall to study to be a registered nurse and eventually a public health nurse.

“I’m really proud of all the teen parents who graduated with me,” she added. “It’s hard.”

Graduate Andrea Holthusen said she was proud of herself for graduating. “At the beginning of this year, I didn’t know if I would go to school,” she said. She attended school with a friend, and they kept each other going. She hopes to go to college in another state and to be an interior designer.

Staff members from the school are always a combination of thrilled and tearful at the ALC commencement. But they don’t like to take credit for any of the students’ success.

“It’s their families and their determination,” said teacher Nancy DeSchepper. “We had quite a few teen moms and teen dads this year,” she added. “It’s a big challenge and they did it; we’re very proud of them.”

The graduates were Abdifatah Ahmed, Jordan Blaskowski, Mitchel Danielson, Dayana Dominguez, Hunter Eidem, Briana Flores, Mikayla Geer, Tony Gerrero Jr., Ariahana Gibbs, Maria Gutierrez, Ivan Hennessey, Mary Holguin, Andrea Holthusen, Jesse Maag, Brandon McCartney, Andrew Mendez, Mirian Millan, Osman Mohamed, Alex Olivier, Ramiro Rivera, Katelyn Saboe, Rudy Turrubiates, Gisel Siu-Martinez, Sergio Trevino and Edin Zelaya Calix.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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