CLOVIS -- Michael Mercado was down to his last strike.
Time badly spent with the "wrong people," fights and depression left Mercado as an unwanted student. No school would take him, not even Gateway High School.
"I begged them to take me in," said Mercado. "They really didn't want to take me."
It wasn't easy.
Mercado suffered from depression and was deemed a danger to others.
"At Gateway, I learned how to control my temper," said Mercado, who received a scholarship at a luncheon reception the previous week.
Last Monday night, Mercado stood alongside 45 classmates during their graduation ceremony at the Mercedes Edwards Theater.
Now, Mercado wants to return the favor by helping at-risk youths. First, he will attend Fresno City College and then study psychology.
Mercado figured that Gateway was his last resort to straighten out his life and be a role model for his younger brother and sister.
"I feel like I have everything in order," he said.
Teachers and staff at Gateway, said Mercado, "understood where I came from."
Mercado's story is not unique. Many of his fellow graduates have also faced obstacles.
Jonathan Valdez, one of four class speakers, summed it up in his speech.
"It's not been an easy road for most of us up here," he said. "Some of us were kicked out of school, and people thought we would never make anything of ourselves.
"But we are here tonight graduating, and preparing to start the next chapter of our lives."
Valdez enrolled at Gateway, the Clovis Unified School District's alternative education high school, his sophomore year.
"It was the best thing that could happen to me," he said.
Valdez was suspended for fighting, but "I spent time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life."
That led to "a great deal of time" in juvenile hall. A police officer there helped him get a second chance.
"That is why I have chosen to help others in my community and help others," said Valdez, who wants to become a police officer.
The graduates heard physical education instructor Ray Hansen, the commencement speaker, talk about what makes them success stories.
"Those bad choices are not the choices you want to continue to make," he said. "It's how we handle those disappointments that define us."
Hansen told the audience that the graduates "will be great because they want to be great."
"People try to bring them down, but they are strong," said Hansen.
Brandon Jeffrey Connor, who spent two years at Gateway, received the David Verdugo Memorial Scholarship. The funds are provided by the school staff in memory of a former counselor who died of cancer.
Other graduates also received scholarships from the community.
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