BILLINGS - The first of Billings School District 2's high school graduation ceremonies took place at the Lincoln Center Auditorium on Wednesday night.
Family and friends celebrated the accomplishments of students who took advantage of a second chance.
About 270 students completed the adult education program this year, with about 130 sending an RSVP to go through the commencement ceremony.
For all of them, they've overcome challenges to get to graduation.
Some in the Class of 2023 dropped out of high school before returning to complete their educations.
"I personally struggled with addiction myself," said Kiarra Schleining. "I was addicted to heavier drugs for roughly two and a half years. I finally decided in 2021 to get sober. Once I did that I kind of wanted to jumpstart my career, and get myself back into living a good life."
The program also helps young mothers.
"Young Families, so it's for teen moms," said Addyson Miller, "Basically, I started going there when I was just a few weeks pregnant, like I had just found out. And then I went there, my whole freshman year. I ended up dropping out my sophomore year."
And through adversity, they studied and achieved.
"It's very empowering," said Schleining. "It makes me feel whole. It makes me feel like a woman. Grown. I don't know how to really put it into words, but just the growth feels very amazing."
"It honestly feels awesome," said Miller. "To just be finally done. It was a lot of work, but I did it and did it for my son."
And many students have that perseverance to make it through school.
"Many of our students are coming in, they've had a variety of challenges in their life, and they've overcome them," said Randy Russell, School District 2 director of Billings Adult Education. "Their resiliency skills. They persisted. They set goals for themselves and here they are. They completed their HiSET and they're moving on."
"Love your neighbor and love God," said commencement speaker Russell Fagg, retired Yellowstone County district judge.
He also told graduates they live in the best nation and advised them to keep dreaming.
And whether or not they gave a speech, they left their classmates with good messages.
"Strive for better for yourself and for those around you and just keep pushing until you get there," said Schleining.
"Even if you don't think you can, there's so many resources, like you really can't do it," said Miller.