For the last time as principal, Bill Pittsford heard the sweet sounds of at-risk teens graduating high school during the 2011 graduation commencement for Canyon Ridge High School and Shadow Ridge Learning Center Thursday afternoon.


But before student Dionta Young Broom demonstrated his dance moves and enthusiastically rang the bell, Pittsford bared his heart to a packed house during the graduation exercises in the Oak Hills High School performing arts center.


With teachers standing in front of him, Pittsford revealed a personal struggle as a high school sophomore in Chula Vista. His French teacher, Paulette Wilson, sensed Pittsford was going astray.


"You're walking a crooked path of life," she told him.


But, Pittsford told the audience, she asked him to see her every morning before school began.


"This woman became my confidant, my daily check in," he said.


Although Pittsford would face other challenges for starters, he attended 15 colleges before graduating that special teacher who saw his need helped him get back on track. After 33 years in the teaching field, Canyon Ridge's founding principal has retired.


"I would not want to complete my career anywhere else," Pittsford said.


Canyon Ridge, which opened in 2007, graduated 138 students.


At Mojave High's graduation ceremony at Sultana's Jay Reed Field, which had 178 accept diplomas Thursday night, one student was singled out for embodying the success of the HUSD's alternative education program. Valyssa Bonilla received the "Against All Odds" award for a transformative senior year that saw her begin as an unsure teen who earlier struggled at a much larger school to become a top-notch student in the nurturing alternative education setting.


"I'm nervous," Bonilla said before the ceremony. "It's about to end, and I can't believe I made it."


Her struggle with academics came to a climax her senior year when her grades took a nosedive.


"The teachers were not helping me," the 17-year-old said. "'You should have looked up at the board,' one teacher told me. I started failing every single class."


A school counselor told her the hard facts: "You're not going to make it. You're not going to graduate." The only solution was to transfer to Mojave High.


But Bonilla carried more than the average amount of teenage self-doubt. Her parents had her when they were teenagers, and both dropped out of high school.


"My mom and dad didn't finish school, so why should I?" Bonilla would tell herself.


But Bonilla was raised by affirming grandparents since she was 4 months old.


Over the course of her senior year, Bonilla blossomed. She asked questions. She got answers. She became one of Mojave's most accomplished students. And she found her passion art. She plans on a career in video game design after attending the Art Institute of California Inland Empire.


"She came to us very shy," said Mojave High school counselor Patricia Vander Kamp. "She came into herself. She's a very hard worker. She'll do very well realizing her dream."