MASON CITY | "Absolutely everything."
Wearing a red cap and gown, that's what Christa Asche, 19, said what graduating from the Mason City Alternative School meant to her.
"It's the first major stepping stone in my life," she said before the ceremony Thursday night.
Asche was one of 60 seniors graduating from the school in front of a standing-room only audience in the school district's FEMA safe room.
Asche, who was also one of two student speakers during the ceremony, attended the Alternative School for one year after poor attendance and not trying at the Mason City High School. After being pushed by teachers she finally decided she should listen to them and found the right fit at the Alternative School.
"I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere in life unless I tried harder," she said. "And it was definitely worth it."
Asche said she plans to attend North Iowa Area Community College for law enforcement or LaJames College for massage therapy.
Fellow graduate Devon Graves, 17, admitted he might not have graduated from high school if it hadn't been for the Alternative School. He, too, attended the school for a year after poor attendance at the high school.
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"I like the time you get with teacher-student help," Graves said about the Alternative School.
GRAVES SAID THAT HE'S PROUD to be the first family member in a long time to graduate from high school.
Principal Dave Ciccetti said the seniors attended the school for a variety of reasons and varying amounts of time. For example, one attended for four years, eight for three years and one for one quarter.
Student speaker and graduate Sirena Bemis summed up all of their different journeys.
"It doesn't matter how you graduate, it just matters that you did it," she said.
The ceremony also included scholarship winners and special awards. The special awards focused on the three areas of a contract students sign when they attend the school — attendance, behavior and academic achievement.
Alternative School advisers/teachers also gave a speech about what graduation means.
"The most important part is you," read one teacher. "What's it all mean to you?"
Ciccetti also reminded students "this is just the beginning not the end."