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Rosa Lopez proudly stood in front of 60 attendees inside the Santa Maria Veterans Memorial Building sharing that she’s been drug-free for 15 months and seven days – and declaring what the Tuesday commencement truly signified.

“Today is a day of forgiveness, today is a day of caring, today is a day of bonding and today is a day of letting go,” she told the crowd.

Lopez was one of five graduates who successfully passed the Substance Abuse Treatment Court Program and was honored at the city’s 72nd graduation ceremony.

She joined fellow grads Yovane Alcantar, Eloy Sanchez, Donna Garcia and Angela Rangel as this year’s honorees of the program that aims to achieve sobriety for its students. Graduates ranged from the mid-20s to early 50s in age.

Lopez told the crowd inside the veterans auditorium that she battled addiction for 40 years. But after successfully completing the program, she has her sights set on going back to college and becoming a drug and alcohol counselor.

She ended her speech with this message:

“Everyone out there, give us a chance. Forgive us for our past. Because of letting go, we can all have a better future with our families and without drugs and alcohol,” Lopez said.

Judge Kay Kuns, who served as the master of ceremonies for the graduation ceremony, said participation of the program is a yearlong commitment and involves court reviews, probation supervision and intensive treatment.

Successful program participants can achieve sobriety, recovery and stability and may have their previous charges dismissed and their probation terminated early.

“This [graduation] is the granddaddy of our treatment program,” Kuns said.

Santa Barbara County Probation Department public information officer Karyn Milligan said the program collaborates with the Superior Court, the Probation Department, the Public Defender’s and District Attorney’s offices, the Department of Behavioral Wellness, the UC Santa Barbara, the Sheriff’s Office and other community-based organizations.

Santa Maria Police Chief Phil Hansen, a guest speaker at the ceremony, praised and expressed his support for the five individuals who completed the steps to become sober.

“This is about solving problems,” Hansen told the graduates about what the recovery program really means. “You’re solving problems on an individual level. You’re also trying to solve problems in the community. We all face tremendous challenges in life.

“I’m very proud you’re taking this on and you’re solving problems for yourself, and your families are helping with that,” he said. “I’m happy for you here because I’m very proud of what you’ve done.”

Before Lopez took to the podium, Rangel was the first of the five grads to speak. She admitted that she was given a second chance through Kuns herself.

She turned to Kuns and the other members of the program who aided in her recovery process and said through tears, “I appreciate you all for having faith in me that I could change.”

Rangel concluded by saying she has been sober for 19 months.

Sanchez joined Alcantar as the two men who passed the yearlong commitment of getting clean.

Sanchez said he has his sights set on getting a job and going back to school, with visions of heading into the computer industrial tech field.

“I want to go back to school and get started on computer IT and finish my degree,” Sanchez said. “Hopefully, I can become a very good member of society.”

Each graduate not only received certificates of completion, but Kuns also placed a medal around their necks and shared a hug with each grad.

Following the conclusion of the ceremony, Sanchez spent a few minutes shaking hands with Kuns and expressing his sincere gratitude for offering him another chance in life, telling her, “Words can’t express my appreciation.”

Kuns then proceeded to tell Sanchez to look at the back of his new medal, where he found “Believe in yourself” had been emblazoned.

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