Monterey High graduates line up at their commencement ceremony at Luther Middle School in Burbank on Wednesday, June 6, 2012.

Monterey High graduates line up at their commencement ceremony at Luther Middle School in Burbank on Wednesday, June 6, 2012. (Cheryl Guerrero/Staff photographer / June 7, 2012)

School was never Erik Guzman’s forte, and there were plenty of people around him who assumed he wouldn’t make it through. He struggled to balance work at his family’s restaurant in East Los Angeles with his academic pursuits at Monterey High School in Burbank.

But on Wednesday, the 19-year-old not only received his high school diploma, he was also bestowed the school’s “Rising Star” award for his determination and diligence.

“At the end, I am a winner,” said Guzman, who delivered one of the two student speeches at the commencement ceremony. “I might have graduated late, but I got my high school diploma and I proved everyone wrong. The lesson I learned is that nothing is impossible and all you have to do is try and never give up.”

Graduation at Monterey High School, Burbank Unified’s alternative campus, is especially sweet in part because many of the students face extraordinary challenges to get there, Principal Ann Brooks said.

All of them have fallen behind in the credits needed to graduate for a variety of reasons, including parenthood, work commitments and family instability, she said.

“It also serves students who need a smaller learning environment a place to complete their high school diploma,” Brooks said. “There are some kids for whom the hustle and bustle...of the comprehensive school is just a little too much.”

This year, Monterey High School served 361 students, Brooks said. Seventy of them earned their high school diplomas while two more were awarded certificates of completion pending the California High School Exit Exam, she said.

“It is a very big deal,” Brooks said. “Many of these kids have had to go to school for an extra quarter or semester. We have a couple for whom it is an extra year. Many of them have jobs...Some of them don’t have a whole lot of support at home.”

School staff assisted more homeless students this year than any year before, Brooks said, making arrangements for students to continue attending even if their families had lost their homes.

When graduate Elizabeth Mariscal got pregnant mid-way through her high school career, she thought she might have to quit. But she said she found the support she needed at Monterey.

“I was really thankful that they offered the nursery because without that I wouldn’t have been able to make it through high school, I probably would have dropped out,” Mariscal said.

Now, the 19-year-old is studying to become a medical assistant.

“It feels good,” Mariscal said of receiving her diploma. “I did it for my son."