The air was thick with emotion and a renewed hope.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of you," Bill Pittsford, principal of Canyon Ridge and Shadow Ridge Learning Center, said as he fought off tears during Tuesday's graduation ceremony at Mission Crest Elementary School. "This has been a special year."

Last year, Canyon Ridge graduated just a handful of students. But the Class of 2008-09 yielded much bigger numbers. In all, more than 60 students from Canyon Ridge and two affiliate programs met graduation requirements and together participated in the tassel ceremony.

"Many of you are like my own children," said Pittsford, who called this school year one of the most personally reward in his 30-year career. "I've seen you laugh. I've seen you cry. Sometimes you left, but you always came home."

Pittsford said the school's motto is, "Sometimes you have to go around the block to get next door."

A tearful Riyahna Weathersby, one of two seniors chosen to address the standing-room-only audience, thanked the Canyon Ridge staff, friends and family.

The principal introduced the second speaker, Roni Hanke, as "the first Raven student."

"Being at Canyon Ridge School has allowed me to dream," said Hanke, a multiple scholarship winner who enrolled after dropping out of high school three years ago.

Superintendent Mark McKinney congratulated the graduates and said, "With this door closing others will open."

School board Lee Rogers and Hardy Black helped present the diplomas. Summit Leadership Academy, which is located next to Canyon Ridge, presented the colors. Wayne Goff led the flag salute. The Canyon Ridge Choir sang the National Anthem.

Tina Kleber and Mary Porras announced the graduates.

Canyon Ridge Graduates:
Alyssa Avalos, Stephanie Ball, Justine Blanset, Christopher Bolanos, David Brown, Michael Cadena, Kayana Curry, Katrina Descaro, Cindy Esobar, Dyanna Gutierrez, Rhonda Hanke, Brenda Lucatero, Edgar Martinez, Elizabeth Massimi, Stephanie Morales, Jasmine Morris, Christina Orozco, Sandra Ponce, Maria Rios, Shymira Robinson, Lucy Salazar, Jennifer Soriano, Ashley Traver Tesarski, Pedro Trujillo, Karely Uvamea, Tania Villegas, Riyahna Weathersby, Alex Zamora

Shadow Ridge Sucdess Graduates:
Michael Ancira, Darine Butler, Heather Edwards, Jeremy Hamilton, Leanna Jo Hannon, Will McNair, Stephanie Patton, Nathalie Porter, Jesse Renderos, Terri Taylor, Kalub Wimer

Shadow Ridge Independent Study Graduates:
Erika Bent, William Bueno, Sherlyn Camacho-Flores, Timothy Chicaui, Marcelo Cucalon, Anthony DeGroote, Janae Desmond, Brian Escorcia, Natalie Gallardo, Elizabeth Garcia, Wayne Goff, Breana Griswold, Jasmine Hughes, Justin Jacqua, Joshua Jimenez, Savanna Landeros, Adrian Maldonado, Dashun McDaniel, Jared Ostrander, Elaine Rutledge, Jose Sanchez, Ashlie Sandoval, Alexandra Wilkerson, Dillon Woosley