Graduation times, locations and student totals are as follows:

John Vierra and Vallecito high schools

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Bret Harte Theater

Number graduating: 30

Bret Harte High School

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Dorroh Field

Number graduating: 136

Dario Cassina/Theodore Bird high schools

When: 5 p.m. June 7

Where: Sonora High School’s Bud Castle Gymnasium

Number graduating: 56

Sonora High School

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, June 8

Where: Dunlavy Field

Number graduating: 181

Don Pedro High School

When: 6 p.m. June 8

Where: Don Pedro High gymnasium

Number graduating: 9

Calaveras High School

When: 7:30 p.m. June 8

Where: Frank Meyer Field

Number graduating: 204

Tioga High School:

When: 7 p.m. June 9

Where: Tioga High School gymnasium

Number graduating: 13

Summerville High School

When: 8 p.m. June 9

Where: Thorsted Field

Number graduating: 95

Clothed in ceremonial caps and gowns, more than 700 students from the class of 2017 in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties will take the long walk down the aisle to receive their diplomas in the next two weeks.

As students prepare for the seminal educational achievement of their young lives, they have also taken time to reflect: What circumstances have brought them to this point, and what challenges are to come?

Sonora High School senior Amanda Mena, 18, said her balanced participation in campus leadership, academic interests and sports programs were foundational to the impending graduation.

“If you're passionate about something, you should never give it up,” she said. “Never give up on your dreams because there may be another opportunity that comes to you.”

Mena, president of Sonora High’s Future Farmers of America and a varsity softball player, will attend Merced Junior College to study agriculture business and administration and play softball in the fall.

For friends and family of the students, a high school graduation is a time for a celebration of personal accomplishment and the acquisition of developmental goals. High school fields and gyms, set with cascades of seating, will certainly be filled with these throngs of families and out-of-town visitors, invited to cheer when they hear the name of a specific graduating student.

But for the students themselves, it's the stories of triumphs and failures, treasured memories and personal relationships that characterize their high school experience.

Calaveras High School Senior Zoey Spears, 18, one of five named valedictorian for maintaining a 4.0 grade point average throughout high school, will attend San Francisco State University in the fall to study journalism.

Despite some trials and tribulations and the difficulty of “the pressure of maintaining perfect grades and finding a balance between extracurriculars and academics,” she said, it was the goal of eventually working for a nonprofit organization and advocating for victims of human trafficking that pushed her to succeed.

“One of the most important things I've learned is that life is exactly what you make it. Well, you complain about high school as much as you want, but in reality you are the one that determines what your experience is,” she said.

Starting as a freshman at Calaveras High School, Spears felt her writing did not have purpose or even an adequate competence. But it was the able direction of her teachers, she added, that kept her striving to develop an aptitude for her chosen craft.

“The best part of high school was the support I got from my teachers and how much time and energy they invested in me,” she said.

Calaveras High School will also recognize foreign exchange students who spent the past year enrolled at the school and who will receive their diplomas outside of their country of origin.

Senior Slorian Sazaro, 18, began his high school education in Brussels, Belgium, and after graduation will return to the University of Liberty in Brussels to continue his education.

Sazaro has spent the past 10 1/2 half months in Calaveras County and noted that some of his favorite experiences came from participation with the varsity soccer and track and field teams.

“It's a small school, but it's like a family, I guess. It’s really nice that you know everybody. That's really cool.”

While it took time to acclimate to the new environment, Sazaro said that he has grown to appreciate the peculiarities of the American education system and honing his English language skills. Notably, he said, and unlike Belgium, most of the Calaveras High School students drive to school instead of taking public transportation.

“It's really different,” he said. “Everyone has a car here! Everything is pretty hard at first because it's a different language. But in the end, when you know a little bit more, you can talk with everybody and it's fun.”

For Laura Johnson, 18, the fusion of two interests, performance art and English, culminated in her acceptance to the University of California, Irvine, to study musical theater and education.

Johnson will be the only Summerville High School graduate in a whole family of Sonora High School graduates, she said, a result of personal connections with peers involved in the Connections Visual and Performing Arts Academy.

“I feel like, with a few of us, we have grown close to being a family,” she said. “Tests, drama, whatever it is, we support each other a lot. It’s nice to know everyone you are graduating with.”

Throughout her participation in advanced jazz choir, advanced drama courses and theater production, Johnson said it was the guidance from English teacher Brooke Hallinan that inspired her to double major in education.

“She's been a big part of my high school experience,” she said. “I want to be able to teach students and let them know that learning is fun, even though sometimes it is stressful.”

Remarkable academic achievement notwithstanding, for some students it was success in the classroom of sport that motivated their plans.

Bret Harte High School senior Addison Stafford, 18, has accepted a volleyball scholarship to Assumption College in Massachusetts following four years in the Bullfrog’s program.

“The teachers have a really good influence on the students. It's a really good place to be because nobody gets left behind,” she said. “At graduation, I’m excited to walk across the stage and get my diploma. I'm excited to go to college, because I feel like I’m going to a really good place.”

And the Bret Harte High School graduating seniors, who annually select an inspirational quote to be included in their graduation ceremony, may have uncovered the most defining and evocative slogan to define the fellowship of all graduating students: “We came together as strangers, but we leave as eternal friends.”

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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