SAN JOSE -- For years, 17-year-old Raven McEneaney dreaded climbing out of bed and going to school. Wednesday, she graduated and is now headed to college with plans to earn a degree in psychology.

She was among nearly 90 Broadway High seniors -- many of them who never envisioned this day -- who proudly marched across the stage at the Municipal Rose Garden to receive their high school diplomas.

Other schools in San Jose Unified and other districts throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties also are holding graduation and promotion ceremonies this week.

Watching students who started Broadway one or more years behind in credits now succeed and graduate stirred up mixed emotions in educators.

"It's such sweet sorrow," Broadway Principal Stephanie Ogden said about her school's commencement, shared with San Jose Unified's Liberty High independent study program. In their previous schools, the students "got a little lost in the system. We help them find their way," Ogden said. "We see that the light bulb has gone off, and they really want to graduate."

While students who have failed or dropped out of classes often are referred to Broadway -- San Jose Unified's continuation school -- it is not a take-all-comers school. Ogden and her staff first meet with students and their families. Usually they're juniors or seniors needing to make up work, but some younger students who are pregnant or have children are accepted. Interviewers are looking for maturity, the ability to carry on a conversation and even be a bit eloquent. And because the school accepts students from throughout San Jose Unified, the county's largest school district, students have to know how they're going to get to school every day. The district does not provide busing.

For Raven, social anxiety after middle school became nearly disabling. She failed classes, bounced through three high schools then just stopped going to school for six months.

"I didn't feel like I could handle being in a classroom all day," she said. In class, she was afraid of being ridiculed or of looking stupid.

But a friend referred her to Broadway. The familiar apprehension began melting away.

"All the teachers are very open and caring," she said. "The principal helps you the most. At a normal high school, principals seem kind of condescending and you can't talk to them."

Instead, she said, "Ms. Ogden treats you like you are an adult and you are a human being, and not a little kid. She kind of helps you learn to make your own decisions."

Ogden said that the school has high expectations. While it doesn't offer interscholastic sports, it does offer music, technology and other electives, just in a smaller setting for those not suited to traditional high schools. "Some kids don't like to have to figure out who they're taking to the prom."

Raven made up her credits, passing eight classes in one year with straight A's. She's headed to San Jose City College, with hopes of transferring to a state university.

"We're so proud," Ogden said. "We feel so honored to have worked with them."

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/noguchionk12.