DUBLIN, Calif. - For the newest graduates of the Alameda County sheriff's academy, Friday was a day of mixed emotions. There was joy that they are now law enforcement officers, but it was tempered with sadness because one of their own couldn't be there with them.
At a ceremony at the Shannon Community Center in Dublin, a bagpiper accompanied the 47 men and women who survived the 172nd sheriff's academy. Family and friends watched with pride during a ceremony laced with cheers and applause.
"I’m just proud to have completed it. It was a long six months, the beginning was rough," said newly minted Daly City police Officer Rayleen Perez.
But Perez grew emotional when asked about recruit David Nguyen, who was killed in an Oakland freeway shooting last month while driving home from the academy.
"It kind of brings tears to my eyes, but we have a seat here for him," said Perez, pointing to an empty chair on which sat a framed picture of Nguyen and a bouquet of flowers, A shirt with pictures of him was draped on the seat back.
"But he’s here in spirit. So we’re doing it for him," Perez said.
The gunman is still at large.
"An evil that manifested itself into one single person decided with cruelty and disregard decided to take the life of one of our own," said Deputy Garrett Stewart, speaking on behalf of his recruit class.
But on this day, there was some happiness, as well. Sheriff Greg Ahern named Nguyen an honorary deputy sheriff, a first in the history of the sheriff's office.
"He had military experience, he was fit, he was kind, took care of his parents, he took care of everybody, he was one of the leaders of this academy class. It’s a huge loss. We’re gonna really miss him," Ahern said.
Nguyen's sister Barbara accepted the honor on behalf of the family.
"I’m just happy to see his entire class graduate, and all the smiles, and all the families are here today. And you know, my brother’s smiling up there," she said.
Also smiling was new Los Altos police Officer Steven Debiasio, who got top overall honors for academics and marksmanship.
"I grew up shooting, so I think I had an advantage there and then literally just relying on my partners, everybody helped everybody study," said Debiasio, whose proud father, San Francisco sheriff's Lt. Robert Debiasio was among those in attendance.
And everybody survived. They ran. They trained. They got yelled at. And through it all was the mantra, "Just don’t quit."
The journey for these 47 graduates started back in July, but it’s not over yet. For the new deputies, they’ll start working in the jails. For new officers, they’ll be field training in the streets.
They'll now serve in more than a dozen communities across Northern California. They say Deputy Nguyen will be serving alongside them as well.