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 Nearly 80 new graduates from 12 Tucson Unified high schools received their diplomas at the Winter Graduation ceremony held at Catalina High School on Thursday, Dec. 17.

Adelita Grijalva, president of the Governing Board, was the keynote speaker. She congratulated the graduates and gave them an opportunity to thank the people who encouraged them throughout their high school journeys. She asked family members and school staff to stand so students could honor them with applause.

One graduate had a huge cheering section. Fifty-eight friends and family members attended the ceremony to celebrate Gildardo "Dito" Gonzalez, who earned his diploma from Project More.

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Gildardo "Dito" Gonzalez, center, graduated from Project More high school. Fifty-eight of his friends and family members were there to cheer him on.

Dito's mother, Irma Gonzalez, said her son is known for being kind-hearted and said her family and friends embraced him throughout his high school experience and worked together to get him to the finish line.

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The student speaker for the winter graduation ceremony was Fionna Brown from Sahauro High School. She shared these tips for the future: Strive for excellence, do not settle and be kind.
"It really takes a village," she said.

As the family gathered around him after the ceremony, it was clear this was a good day for Dito and that he was appreciative to have so much support.

"It means my family is behind me in all of this," he said. Dito plans to pursue a career in criminal justice.

For Al Hussein Mousa, who moved here with his family from Iraq six years ago, earning his diploma from Catalina High School is a symbol of something bigger—of opportunity and the American dream.

"Even though we came here from another country, this country gave us the opportunity to do what we want to do," Al Hussein said. He plans to join the Army and become a military police officer.

Fionna Brown, an early graduate from Sahuaro High School, was the student speaker at the ceremony. She reminded her fellow graduates that they have unlimited potential to be successful.

"Whether you become a doctor, a mechanic or you stay at home with children, we all have a purpose," she said. "And your purpose matters."

Alijibu Kitubure, who comes from the Congo, earned her diploma from Palo Verde Magnet High School. As she celebrated with her mother and sisters, she said the most important lesson for the night is that "hard work pays off."

 Alijibu Kitubure, a Palo Verde graduate, was surrounded by her mother and sisters on graduation night. They are, from left, Esperance Maranatha, Divine Bahige and Josphene Nzijire.
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Al Hussein Mousa graduated from Catalina High School. He is pictured here with his mother, Sana Radi, sister Rahaf Mousa and his friends, Alex Tena, left, and Tariq Tariq, right.

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That's certainly true for a group of graduates who earned special recognition at the ceremony. Ten graduates earned their diplomas as a result of the Steps to Success program, a collaboration of Tucson Unified and Tucson Mayor Johnathan Rothschild. Twice a year, District and City employees and community members go door to door to meet with students in hopes of persuading them to return to school and earn their high school diplomas. The next walk is scheduled for Jan. 15.

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