It was a historical night last Thursday as 62 Minarets High School seniors arrived in Ford Mustangs and with individual theme songs blaring, walked the red carpet, leading them out of high school and on to the next step in their lives. The school's first graduating class ceremony was streamed live with people watching as far away as New York and Texas according to Minarets Charter High School director Jon Corippo.
"According to our grads, families, staff and community, graduation was a huge success," said principal Michael Niehoff. "It was great to see the community turnout and crowd involvement. It was a fun and personal evening that everyone seemed to buy into and enjoy. Based on the happiness of others, we were indeed very satisfied with graduation."
Chawanakee Unified School District Superintendent Stephen Foster said graduation was more than he expected. From choosing a mascot and school colors to seeing it all come together, Foster said the Mustang pride was "truly overwhelming."
It was a unique night the Minarets High School Class of 2012 will not forget.
"It was pretty bomb," said Shane Rickman, 18. "I figured I'd get there (graduation) eventually but it was time consuming and a long wait."
Jeremy Hilliard, 18, who plans to pursue a degree in film and media, said graduation was "all that and more."
"It was a real joy," he said. "Finally graduating is a really fun experience. Minarets really offered us a lot in the beginning and a lot in the end."
For Cheryl Brost, the experience was a happy one but also a little sad.
"Before, I thought it would be so long, but it went by quickly," she said. "It was great."
Brost said the best part of the ceremony was being honored as a distinguished scholar by her favorite teacher, David Cicoletti. Brost, along with 12 classmates, were honored with awards for being Minarets Distinguished Scholars -- students with a grade point average of 3.5 and above. Brost graduated with a 3.56 grade point average and plans to pursue a degree in animal science at Fresno State.
Brost is one of the original 27 pilot students. Of those 27, 20 remained to graduate with the first official graduating class. They were called forward to be specially recognized and were honored with gold and purple chords.
Robby Stephens, 17, was also a graduating original pilot student.
"It was really amazing," he said, adding that his high school years had gone fast but his fall is already planned out as he plans to pursue a degree in computer technology.
His grandmother, LaVerne Blanchard, said she was always very happy with the relationship the school had with students and their families, saying they were always informed by phone and emails about what was going on.
"It's a small school but it's like one big family," she said. "They're growing all the time, but just getting better. Graduation was beautifully done."
Foster said he was on "Cloud 9" seeing all the hard work coming to fruition with the first graduating class.
"My board leadership, Mike Niehoff's leadership, as well as Jon Corippo's leadership, made the experience so rewarding," he said. "I was overwhelmed at the 'Class of 2012' and their accomplishments, the quality of the ceremony experience and the community excitement. I could only think, 'Wow' ... this is better than I ever expected."
Foster was honored by being the first person inducted into the Minarets Hall of Fame. The honor was presented by senior Justin Crossley.
Foster, who is retiring at the end of the month, said he felt honored, overwhelmed and thankful to be part of the graduation ceremony.
"It was truly a great end to my 22 years in Chawanakee (25 in education) and a wonderful celebration as I move into retirement," he said. "No regrets, just a proud superintendent, humbled at God's involvement in my life and the way he used me, and to have my wife there ... there was nothing better."
Incoming superintendent Bob Nelson said that being able to attend the ceremony was "amazing."
"To watch that moment through the eyes of Dr. Foster and the Chawanakee Board of Trustees, who fought long and hard to make this campus a reality, was something I'll never forget," Nelson said. "Thursday night validated their hard work and dedication. Congratulations, too, goes to Mr. Niehoff, Mr. Corippo, and the staff of Minarets for creating an unforgettable experience for the students."
Nelson said he is excited to help the district keep developing a solid transitional kindergarten through high school experience and that students from all the district's schools can "use their high school diploma and the positive character they have developed alongside our staff, as a springboard to major success in life."
Corippo said graduation was "positively magical," adding that the class of 2012 set an "awesome pace" with 29% going to four-year schools and more than 90% going straight into college or career.
Seniors enjoyed Sober Grad at Camp Oakhurst where they had access to paintball, the ropes course, giant swing, giant trampoline, volleyball, a campfire, food, refreshments and prizes all night long.