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Devin Howard, 21, accepts his certificate of completion of the Emerging Abilities program at the Silver Valley Education Center graduation ceremony on Monday night. Howard has severe autism and school officials practiced for weeks with him to get his walk across the stage “just right,” according to the school's principal Stefan Cvijanovich.

Their own ‘unique stories'

Silver Valley AEC graduates record number of students


DAGGETT • For the rural communities of Yermo, Calico, Newberry Springs, Daggett, Fort Irwin and Ludlow, 37 graduates was a record number this year at the Silver Valley Alternative Education Center, according to the school’s principal Stefan Cvijanovich.

“Each of my students has a very unique story,” he said before the ceremony Monday night.

He reiterated the statement later in his speech to the graduates.

“For some it’s a story filled with adversity and/or challenge,” he told the graduates. “Yet, remember your belief, your courage, your hard work ... have made today a reality.”

The AEC — four schools and nine programs in one— held its graduation ceremony in a mid-sized auditorium that became standing-room only, filled to the brim with proud parents, friends, school board members, educators and other well-wishers.

For one student, 21-year-old Devin Howard, the walk across the stage was an accomplishment itself, according to his school aide Jenny McKnight. Howard has severe autism and isn’t used to large crowds, she said.

Cvijanovich said they practiced the walk with Howard for weeks to ensure he would be prepared for the big day. He received a certificate of completion from Silver Valley Academy’s Emerging Abilities program and was the first student to do so at the school.

“He’s a fantastic young man and since arriving here he’s had a lot of growth,” Cvijanovich said.

Lt. Col. Michaele McCulley of Fort Irwin was the keynote speaker. McCulley is the senior logistics trainer at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center and is only the second woman ever to hold that position. Dressed in a formal Army uniform, she told graduates that in life some choices are out of their control, such as the family they’re born into and the name they’re given.

“We don’t have choices on our name but we do get to choose what we do with our name,” she said.

With “a vision and understanding” that not every student learns the same way, Cvijanovich said, the AEC endeavors to teach students who have sometimes been sent there without a choice.

For example, Calico High School serves students 16-18 years old who are behind in their studies by as many as 100 credits. The Community Day School is a program for students who have been expelled by the school district board, according to their website. The AEC also includes Silver Valley Adult School and Silver Valley Academy.

The graduates wore gold and black gowns — young women shined in gold and young men were draped in black. After the diplomas were passed out and the students made their individual walks across the stage, Cvijanovich invited any student to the stage to speak. About 12 students volunteered, many briefly thanking their families and teachers for their support. A few choked back tears.

Maria Weeks, 17, said it looked unlikely she would graduate after she dropped out of Calico High School in the 9th grade. Her mother died when Maria was 4 years old and she later had a rocky relationship with her father as a teen, leaving her nearly homeless. Now living independently and holding a part-time job at Subway, she said she plans to attend Azusa Pacific University to study nursing.

“I was going through a hard time and by 10th grade I realized, you know, life’s too short, I need to buckle down and do something before it’s too late,” Weeks said. “And I did, I came back in 10th grade and finished all four of my high school years in two years.”

Contact the writer: or 760-256-4123.

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