As of June 13, 2012, 112 high school dropouts in Orange County no longer exist. As caps and tassels flew high during the Orange County Conservation Corps’s 2012 graduation ceremony at Irvine Valley College, the dropouts disappeared, replaced by 112 grinning graduates.
Each student had a reason for persevering through the OCCC program, which involves early mornings, hard work and sore muscles. Valedictorian Noemi Lopez said she did it for her son. Graduate speaker Aundre Pipkin explained that he wanted to be a good example for his younger brothers and sisters. Graduate speaker Monique Vasquez spoke of how her teacher, Ernie Estrada, would hold up a diploma when his students considered quitting. “We’re hungry for that diploma,” Vasquez said. Deputy Sheriff Robert Castro, an OCCC alumnus, gave a powerful testimony of why it was worth the effort to complete the program. “The odds were against me,” he said. Despite a family history of gangs and drugs, he finished high school and went on to become a deputy sheriff for Riverside County.
The keynote speaker, Rick Stephens, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Administration for The Boeing Company, encouraged the graduates to continue to work hard and not be afraid to work up from the bottom, just as Stephens began working for his father’s construction company at age seven and worked up to his current position at Boeing.
More and more high school dropouts are choosing to finish their secondary education: the Class of 2012 is the largest in OCCC history. Their determination and work ethic, with some guidance and assistance from the OCCC, has brightened these graduates’ future.