Most of the 32 students who graduated from Daniel C. Oakes High School May 30 offered a shared sentiment: Amazement and gratitude that they were standing at the lectern on graduation day.
Several students, all of whom were allowed to make short speeches during the ceremony, started with a single word: “Wow.”
“I didn’t think I was going to make it here today, but I did,” said Marco Trujillo, whose words sparked thunderous applause from the crowd gathered at Castle Rock Middle School.
Castle Rock’s DC Oakes is an alternative high school that combines personalized instruction, outdoor education and an arts program to offer a different experience to students who struggled in a traditional high school setting. Many chose DC Oakes instead of dropping out, some with little faith that it would make a difference in their lives.
Not only did the 32 students graduate from high school, 27 of them plan to go to college.
Principal Mark Morgan congratulated them for their resiliency and well-earned pride.
With a high school diploma, “You’ve already set yourselves up to have a better life,” he said. “You will live longer and have healthier lives. You will earn approximately $200,000 more over the course of your lives than if you had chosen to drop out.”
The school was a perfect match for Ryan Fleury, who felt out-of-step at Douglas County High School.
“As I was falling apart, I got into Oakes,” he said. “This school’s like a family.”
“I have to say DC Oakes is amazing,” said his mother, Melissa Fleury, wiping away tears. “He was on a bad path. He’s never felt like teachers cared before he came here.”
Graduating seniors repeatedly referenced the sense of family they feel among the school’s students, teachers and staff.
“Whoever said Disneyland was the happiest place on earth obviously hasn’t been to DC Oakes,” Kelliann Oxley said.
“This school gave me the change I needed,” Tanner Lane said. “These diplomas aren’t just pieces of paper to us. They’re a chance for a better future.”