WILLMAR -- A small class graduated from Willmar's Area Learning Center this year, just seven students in all, and just four of them participated in the graduation.
While it was the smallest ALC graduation in several years, it didn't matter to the graduates or their families.
Jessica Gonzalez was a mom who was bursting with pride.
As the graduates accepted their diplomas, ALC program coordinator Kim Ness talked about what they plan to do in the future. When she said that graduate Miguel Gonzalez was uncertain of his plans, his mother piped up, "He's going to college."
Miguel was joined in the ceremony by graduates Amanda Athey, Adam Friehl and Allison Peterson. Other graduates from the alternative high school are Kamas Ahmed, Jamiel Garcia and William Hak.
Athey and Friehl also said they were unsure of their future plans at this point. Peterson recently completed her training to be a certified nursing assistant and said she plans to look for work in that field.
Beckie Simenson, the head of the district's alternative programs, opened the ceremony by talking about how proud she and the school's staff were of the graduates. "Each of you has overcome obstacles to graduate," she said.
Their commitment to the effort was clear in the science projects they completed and in the work they did in other classes, Simenson said.
Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard spoke briefly with the four graduates at the ceremony. "This is just the first step in your life," he said.
He told them that their high school diplomas could double their earning power, or more.
"You've made the right decision," he said. "Now what you've got to do is take a deep breath and decide what you're going to do with the rest of your life."
After the ceremony, Jessica Gonzalez was emphatic about her son. "He's gotta go to college," she said. "He's got to make a change for the next generation."
Gonzalez said she hopes her son will be an example for his younger siblings, two sisters and two brothers.
When he was a boy and she talked to him about college, she said, he asked, "Why should I go to college, you didn't."
So, his parents decided to set an example. She and her husband went to college while they were raising their five kids. Dad studied welding and took paramedic training. He also got his Class C driver's license. Mom studied cosmetology.
"We've come a long way," Gonzalez said. This year, she said, she really pushed Miguel to get that diploma. "Two months before graduation, it clicked," she said. "He just decided, pump up the volume and let's go. ... I don't have words to express myself, how happy I am."
Miguel said he is interested in law and in being a music producer. He does plan to go to college, he said. He will probably start at Ridgewater next year and then head off to the University of Texas. "I'm gonna be a Longhorn."
Allison Peterson said she plans to work as a CNA for a while, probably in the St. Cloud area. She may go on to study nursing at some point, she said, particularly if she has an employer that will help with school expenses.