With neither a tassel nor a gown in sight - but plenty of tie-dye - 54 Willard Alternative High School graduates bid farewell Wednesday evening to an institution that had, in various ways, given them so much trouble.
The Willard Class of 2011, in front of a packed Music Recital Hall on the University of Montana campus, accepted their place in history as the 10th graduating class, bringing the total to 669 over the life of the school.
"High school graduation is one of our great American rituals," said principal Jane Bennett. "All across America, high school graduates will celebrate this weekend and next. But none of them I bet have the sense of satisfaction that the Willard Class of 2011 in Missoula, Montana, has."
The graduates are not second-chance kids, but "the finest scholars, the kindest people and the most committed to each other," said Bennett.
Three student speakers were invited to share their thoughts on their life at Willard, and the meaning and importance of the ceremony.
Becca Spurlock had trouble adjusting to Willard, and even withdrew. But because teachers believed in her, she came back to sit on the student senate, and worked on the yearbook and newspaper.
"My love for this school and the people in it will never end," she said. "Willard is my home, my best friend, my sisters, my mentors ... "
And to her "daddy and mommy," she said: "I am graduating today because of how hard you pushed me and how much you believed in me."
Her final advice to her classmates was to "use the words of doubt from other people to remind you of your strengths."
Luc Dahy, introduced as a "calm visionary," said Willard has taught him "certain important notions."
And those are acknowledgment and acceptance.
"People who don't acknowledge the reality in front of them tend to lead pessimistic lives," he said. "They're constantly wondering why things are the way they are."
Accept life on its own terms, he advised.
"When you accept and acknowledge life, it makes life more peaceful," Dahy said.
And Brandon Fulbrook, a former street kid from Las Vegas, was sharply dressed and introduced as a "self-made man."
The road to graduation has been hard, but its importance can't be overstated.
"This day is probably just as important as the day we were born," he said. "The importance of graduation was lost on me until I came to Willard.
"I'm eternally grateful for this school."
Reach reporter Jamie Kelly at 523-5254 or at email@example.com.