PARADISE — A sea of white and green filled the football field of Paradise High School, where more than 200 high school students began their senior year.
Now, it’s the place where they turned the tassel from childhood to adulthood as they walked across the stage to accept their high school diploma.
“Being able to walk with my class is very memorable,” said Khristeena Delay.
But the road to get there has not been easy. Many students lost their homes and much of the history inside when the deadly Camp Fire tore through Paradise in November.
“A lot of us were very concerned about everything. We were concerned that our school was going to go. We wanted to graduate on our own field,” Delay said.
Paradise High School was one of the few buildings in town to survive the flames and it has become a symbol of home when many students did not have one to return to.
“Whenever we come back it’s always like, ‘Oh, it’s back to normal,’” said Kayla Ricker.
Students say it has been a tough year as they scrambled to find alternate housing and traveled miles to a temporary school in Chico as their high school underwent renovations.
That left students to lean on each other.
“Even though the fire happened, we were able to push through and continue to graduate,” said Anthony Hearn.
Thursday night was about starting a new chapter.
”Moving on, living life and not letting things bring you down even when they’re hard,” said Jayce Brawley.
Around 80% of this year’s graduating class is planning to attend college.
“We have hope and that we will rise up through anything that life has thrown at us,” Brawley said.
As each survivor marched across the Paradise football turf, as most classes have done for decades, they were reminded of the Paradise they once knew.
“I think that it will be amazing that we get to come back here,” Hearn said. “They worked so hard so that we could graduate here and I thank everyone who had anything to do with that so much.”
It’s a community that stood together through the darkness and rose above the ashes.
“It honestly has made me a better person,” Delay said. “I have valued more of life than I did before. Something can blow up in just an instant.”
This marks the last graduation ceremony for Principal Loren Lighthall, who will be stepping down after his home was destroyed in last year’s fire.