Ridgway High bids bittersweet farewell to Chris Martinez

Chris Martinez, shown on graduation day at Ridgway High School in Santa Rosa on Friday, June 2, 2017. ( Photo by Bill Sawhney )


Life, to this point, has cut new high-school graduate Chris Martinez precious few breaks.

So the 19-year-old cuts his own.

Martinez, who was born with cerebral palsy, lost his mother to a car crash less than two years ago and has experienced homelessness.

But educators at Ridgway High expect great things from him because of the self-generated tenacity and personality that propelled him through the Santa Rosa continuation school — and left an impression on it.

“He has a very pure soul,” said principal Gabe Albavera. “He has taught us a lot.”

Martinez has little use of his left arm, and his speech is impaired to the point that he often has to repeat himself to be understood. His stride is herky-jerky.

But his mind is sharp and he’s clear about what he aspires to do.

“Make movies,” he said at a table in Albavera’s office. He intends to enroll in classes at Diablo Valley College while living with his sister, Jocelyn Aristondo, and her family in Concord.

Aristondo was at Ridgway High last Friday for the presentation of diplomas to her brother and about 140 other members of the Class of 2017. She said Martinez has spoken for some time about wanting to become a filmmaker, and she doesn’t doubt that he’ll do it.

“He’s very smart and what he wants he goes for,” said Aristondo, who’s 24.

She came to the graduation ceremony at Ridgway both for herself and for her and Martinez’s mother, Delma, who was 52 when she was killed in a traffic collision in April 2015.

Martinez was 17½ then. He took his mother’s death very hard. His sister said Martinez’s graduation was emotional for her “because it was a moment our mom was waiting to see.”

At the time of the crash, Martinez and his mother were living in Los Angeles. “When my mom passed away I had to move here with my dad,” Martinez said.

He enrolled at Santa Rosa High School and completed 30 credits in a semester, but found it difficult to keep up and do well.

“It was pretty big,” he said. “I was always behind.”

Martinez transferred from SRHS to nearby Ridgway in January 2016. As often happens, he thrived at the continuation school’s smaller campus and within its more personalized, flexible structure.

“It was the best school I ever went to,” he said.

He forged a special bond with campus supervisor Martin Medina, a graduate of Ridgway who has surmounted challenges of his own.

It impressed Medina how Martinez got to school virtually every day and did the work, despite his physical limitations and the bouncing from place to place that he did with his father.

“No matter what, he would run to his class and he’d be on time,” Medina said. “He acts as if there’s nothing wrong with him, as if he’s a regular guy.”

It occurred to Principal Albavera to mention that Martinez “never used his disability as an excuse.”

“He never turned in an assignment late or said he couldn’t do it. It would have been reasonable, understandable. But never,” Albavera said.

Staffers at Ridgway said that beyond pushing himself to succeed, Martinez lit up the school with his can-do air, his humor and sociable nature.

“He has an incredibly positive attitude,” said advisor Tim Gilligan. “He came to school every day with a smile on his face — and he flirted with every girl on campus.”

At Friday’s sun-drenched and balloon-festooned commencement celebration, Martinez was presented the Ridgway High School Perseverance Award.

The graduate said there’s a particular reason he strived to do well.

“I wanted to make my mom happy.”

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and