When Hesperia High School valedictorian Katelyn Almojuela addressed her fellow members of the Class of 2011 on Wednesday night, she was looking to the future.


"Here we stand, ready to embrace whatever's ahead," she said, addressing the other 373 Scorpions graduating at San Manuel Amphitheater. "We have said our thanks. We have been given our words of encouragement and soon we will be turning our tassels."


Although her future seems assured, simply making it to graduation for some of her classmates was an accomplishment in itself.


The first time Christopher Peterson died, he was only 8 years old.


"I coded and stopped breathing and I hemorrhaged," he said. "I was pronounced legally dead."


Four years later, he overheard doctors telling his mother that he would likely be dead by morning.


Six years after that, he's still proving them wrong: Wednesday night at San Manuel Amphitheater, he walked across the stage with 373 Hesperia High School classmates to receive his diploma.


"I never put too much thought into" the various death sentences he's lived under, Peterson said. "I tend to look at the optimistic part of things. ... 'Dude, don't even worry about it. Don't even trip.'"


As a child, Peterson was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of cancer of the white blood cells with good prospects for long-term survival. Only about 1 in 5 of those who contract the disease in childhood lose their lives to it, but it's been a tough road for Peterson.


"I've been told I had 24 hours [to live] multiple times."


After graduation, he'll be attending Victor Valley College, pursuing his dream of becoming an aircraft mechanic. The usual route to that job -- military service -- is closed to him because of his medical history.


"I've talked to recruiters and they say there's no way."


When he accepted his diploma, in many ways, he was saying farewell to the school he knew best: Much of his education has taken place in hospital rooms and at home, tutored by his mother and father.


Starting at Hesperia High as a freshman, in many ways, Peterson was a stranger in a strange land.


"It was an uncomfortable feeling," he said. "Until that year, I felt like I didn't fit in, like I didn't belong in high school. Then, last year, I said 'I'm going to do it.' ... People started talking to me, I started talking to them."


Of course, when he began engaging with his fellow Scorpions, the story about his health problems came out in short order.


"People started asking questions," Peterson said. "I would wear tank tops and people would see the [surgery] scars."


At 18 years old, he's had 50 surgeries and much of his body bears the marks. He pops 20 pills a day and wears testosterone patches.


But his differences didn't end up isolating him, he said.


"They were really supportive," he said. "It's just one more thing you have to deal with."


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.