Head Instructor Kasey Tarter asked 40 of her students to rise after each received their diploma on Thursday and face the audience of family members and friends.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the first graduating class of William Cofield High School," Tarter said, drawing cheers from the audience.
The high school's first graduation ceremony was held at Paul Sawyier Public Library. Tarter said she was full of joy following the ceremony. She said this group of students shaped the mold for WCHS' future.
"We've said from the beginning that it was a work in progress," Tarter said. "Something that I learned and that I'm reminded of is that you always have to be flexible and willing to adapt and give them what they need. "
The Community Room at the library was packed with graduates' families and friends before the ceremony started. Almost every seat was filled and some in the audience stood and lined the wall around the room. Every time a graduate's name was called, audience members erupted with applause.
Dr. Jim Masters, the school's program director, said that WCHS graduates have overcome difficult barriers to get their diploma. The school offers an alternative program for students who may not benefit from the typical four-year high school experience. WCHS interviews students who are not on track to graduate and then, if a good fit, admits them into the program, Masters said. WCHS allows students to set their own pace and focus on particular classes or work around their job schedules.
"We always put kids first in our district and we realize that the traditional method may not always work for every kid," Masters said.
Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Kopp told graduates before handing them their diploma that it is a "precious commodity." A high school diploma will open doors for the graduates, and they will be able to choose those doors.
"A year ago at this time, this was an idea. An idea to give these young men and women an extra opportunity, an additional opportunity," Kopp said. "And through the help of our Board of Education and a lot of hard work ... this became a reality."
Abby Stoess, 17, was one of the graduates on Thursday. This was her third year of high school, but before the year started, she was still considered a freshman by credits. She said that WCHS was the 15th school that she attended in her education and that she felt equal to all of her peers in the program. As for her future, she plans to go to college after she turns 18.
"This is my first accomplishment and it will be the first of many," Stoess said. "It won't be the last."