As Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance, March No. 1" played over the speakers, 42 students in caps and gowns streamed into the Hesperia High School gymnasium Thursday afternoon, the bleachers full of family and friends applauding for them.

The last few members of the Class of 2008 were graduating, after completing their studies in summer school. Each of them wore the same color caps and gowns as their fellows who had graduated in May, mixing black, teal, burgundy and royal blue together as they sat.

"I want to commend you all for your hard work," said summer school principal Jeff Hallett, who serves as a Hesperia High vice-principal during the regular school year. "Not just for this summer, but for the last couple of years."

No one had originally planned to be graduating this way, he acknowledged, but "life doesn't always go as planned."

He mentioned several students of his whom he had spoken with about the challenges they had faced that had ultimately landed them in the summer program at Hesperia High.

Among those listed was Aaron Horsley, who watched from the rear of the seating in a wheelchair. In October 2007, Hesperia High senior Horsley was dragged beneath a pick-up truck for 200 yards after he was hit while riding a dirt bike on the street outside his home. In and out of the hospital for months thereafter, and paralyzed from the waist down, he was too far behind to graduate with his class.

"Adversity exposes character, good or bad," Hallett said. "Life isn't easy -- in fast, it's pretty tough. But each and every one of you is ready for whatever comes next."

A total of 23 Hesperia High graduates received their diplomas Thursday night, along with 12 Sultana High students, three Mojave High students, two Canyon Ridge students and two Desert trails students.

"It doesn't matter how or when you start; it matters how you finish," student speaker DeAndre Brown told the assembled graduates. "We finished strong."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.