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Big night for graduates as Sonoma County high schools hand out diplomas to 2,800 students

Voldermars Redins couldn't have been prouder of his daughter, Nicole Miller-Redins, one of 443 Santa Rosa High School students to graduate Friday in a wave of commencement ceremonies across Sonoma County.

“My little girl grew up,” Redins said while waiting for the 17-year-old's name to be called during the ceremony, held at Santa Rosa Junior College's Bailey Field.

Redins said it wasn't an easy journey for the senior, who wants to become a crime-scene investigator and plans to go to the junior college next year. The girl's mother passed away from health complications three years ago, but the teen made a promise to her mom that she would graduate, he said.

“It was real hard for Nicole, but she pulled through,” said Redins, who stood under a tree near the field with Nicole's boyfriend, Daniel Del Ponte, and cousin, Amanda Udell, as more family trickled in.

“I'm very proud,” said Del Ponte, who was holding a bouquet of red roses to give to Nicole.

On a hot evening across the county, graduation season was in full bloom as more than a dozen schools held graduation ceremonies Friday, awarding diplomas to nearly 2,800 students.

Elsie Allen High School students and their families were welcomed in various languages during their graduation, highlighting the diversity of the southwest Santa Rosa campus. Addressing her class of 190 students, senior Analaura Mendez noted that while she and her classmates might drift apart, they would cherish their time spent together.

Cloverdale High School valedictorian Nick Schneider, 17, was one of four students Friday night to address his class of 96 students. He had an important message to deliver: Graduation is just the beginning. There's more work to be done.

“It's a time to kick it into gear,” he said before giving his speech.

Schneider, who will be studying materials engineering at UCLA later this fall, said he's grateful for the time he spent with his teachers and classmates, whom he's known since second grade.

“We're a pretty tight community,” he said.

“It's a time to look back at the last four years and reflect on how wonderful the teachers have been and how wonderful this whole experience has been,” Schneider added. “I'm proud to be a Cloverdale graduate.”

Santa Rosa High School senior speaker Katie Miller also took time in her speech to highlight those teachers and school officials who she said always had the students' best interest in mind. She also thanked her classmates.

“Your friendship and amiability have been a shiny beacon, a way to get through the stress and terror that come with growing older,” she said.

In her speech, Santa Rosa senior Leah Post compared high school to a roller coaster.

“It's a confusing time,” she said. “Sure, it was fun, but you also spent the majority of your time moving way too fast.”

She added: “The one thing all people feel is a sense of pride, a pride that they conquered their fear and lasted to the end. And that's the feeling we're all here to celebrate today.”

Jose Gonzalez, 24, beamed as he talked about his younger brother and graduate, Jonathan Gonzalez. The 18-year-old is the first in the family to graduate from a traditional high school.

“Hopefully, this is just the starting point,” the elder Gonzalez said, adding that his brother wants to go to college and is thinking about becoming a firefighter.

Graduation season started last week in Sonoma County, with seniors at Windsor High School and Windsor Oaks Academy among the first to receive their diplomas.

El Molino High School celebrated its 50th graduation with a special ceremony on Thursday. Speakers included former principals Doria Trombetta and Frank Anderson, who graduated from the school in 1968. Chan Castleberry, who started teaching at the school when it opened in 1964 and retired in 2000, also spoke during the event, along with Larry Lefor, who was part of the first graduating class in 1966 and returned to the campus as a coach and math teacher.

“El Molino is a special place. It's a family,” said the school's current principal, Matthew Dunkle, who shared that message with students Thursday night.

About 4,000 students overall are set to graduate countywide this year, including 25 students from the Sonoma County Office of Education's alternative education program.

Graduations will continue until late next week.

Healdsburg High School and Marce Becerra Academy will be last to mark the end of their school year with a joint commencement for 149 students next Friday at 7 p.m. at Healdsburg Recreation Park.

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