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Mira Monte High School students Oryanna Bravo, left, and Laura Chavez, have fun during the carnival Wednesday on campus. The school held its third annual Mira Monte High School Relay For Life event. It's a kickoff for the main Relay For Life event Saturday in Bakersfield. The school was "Celebrating More Graduations" because of Hector Ibarra Jr., who died of cancer, would have graduated from Mira Monte this year.

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The Mira Monte High School Lion mascot joins other students as they walk around the school Wednesday during the third annual Mira Monte High School Relay For Life event, a kickoff for the main event this Saturday.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Hector Ibarra Jr. died in 2010 of liver cancer and would have graduated from Mira Monte High this year. His mother, Molly Perez, had her son's picture on her shirt Wednesday during the third annual Mira Monte Relay For Life event on the school campus.

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Hector Ibarra Jr.'s mother, Molly Perez, spoke to Mira Monte High School students during their third annual Mira Monte High Relay For Life event on campus Wednesday.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Mira Monte High School cancer survivor Destiny Herrera.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

A black bee buzzes around the bright yellow flowers in bloom on the Mira Monte High School campus Wednesday.

Hector Ibarra Jr. will not be wearing a cap and gown and walking across the stage to receive his diploma along with his Mira Monte High School class of 2013.

But his legacy and memory live on in the lives of the school, which assembled a Relay For Life team in 2010. This year the team is excited to have 50 active participants in this weekend's Relay For Life.

Ibarra was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer and died a month after the diagnosis at age 14.

"The first year we only had nine students and we only raised $3,000 but this year we have more students and are looking to raise $7,000," said Jose Garza, senior counselor at Mira Monte High School and organizer of the school's relay team.

This year's Relay For Life is particularly important and significant as Ibarra would have been graduating, but Garza is happy to see the support from students who donated spare change in a Relay For Life carnival held at the school's quad Wednesday during lunch.

With tears in her eyes, Ibarra's mother, Amalia "Molly" Perez, talked about the meaning of this year's Relay.

"It's very difficult keeping the memory of my son alive," Perez said. "But it's amazing to see his classmates come together, especially this year that he was supposed to graduate, because I know he would have liked that a lot."

Putting up purple and white Relay For Life posters on the quad, 17-year-old Destiny Herrera had a special reason for being a part of the school's Relay group.

She is a cancer survivor.

At the age of 10, Herrera was diagnosed with leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant from her brother so she could live.

"I have been cancer free for seven years and Relay For Life is more important to me every year because I am a survivor," she said.

Herrera went through chemotherapy and radiation and lost all her hair. Although life was difficult at the time, she knew she had to fight through the pain and exhausting days radiation caused her.

Now that she is cancer free, Herrera sees life differently.

"I learned a lot about who I was and who I wanted to become in life," she said. "And being a part of Relay For Life in Bakersfield is heartwarming because I know how much I depended on the research the American Cancer Society does."

Bakersfield's Relay For Life event was the largest in the world last year, raking in more than $2.2 million net income, according to the American Cancer Society. The next largest Relay event raised $1.8 million.

Christie Ray, Bakersfield Relay's team development mentor, said last year's extravaganza drew about 30,000 spectators, on top of 7,000 to 8,000 participants and volunteers,.

The many dollars raised go to the American Cancer Society for research, education, advocacy and services, Ray said, with the bulk of the money directed to research. The massive local fundraiser was at the center of controversy last fall when some folks were surprised to learn that much of the money raised for the cancer society didn't go to providing local services.

"Our mission is saving lives," Ray said. "And because we don't have a research facility in Bakersfield the money raised can't stay in town for that purpose."

But the money being sent to the American Cancer Society is helping millions of cancer patients who depend on new research to save their lives.

"I am here today because of research and the little pill I take every morning to keep my cancer from returning," said Patsy Romero, 69, a cancer survivor and executive team volunteer for Bakersfield's relay.

Romero is a two year, five month stage three breast cancer survivor.

She has volunteered for 22 years at Relay For Life and for the past two years, her inner strength has emerged by holding on to hope.

"I'm a happy camper because all this money we raise goes to the right place that makes it its goal to come up with different ways of saving lives, like myself," Romero said.

-- Californian staff writer Rachel Cook contributed to this report.