COLUMBIA — A record number of students at Douglass High School graduated Friday evening at Columbia College's Launer Auditorium.
"This night is all about the students," Douglass principal Brian Gaub said.
A record 59 students graduated, beating last year's record of 56 students, Gaub said during the ceremony. Douglass is the only alternative high school in Columbia, with enrollment this year at 178.
Phyllis Chase, superintendent of Columbia Public Schools, and Board of Education members Jan Mees and Karla DeSpain attended the ceremony.
The atmosphere outside Launer Auditorium was one of mixed emotions. Parents and teachers of graduates greeted each other like family with tears of joy celebrating the past accomplishments and future of their graduates.
Inside the auditorium, there was a full house to witness the ceremony. Family and friends packed in to cheer for their graduates as they walked across the stage, transitioning from high school student to graduate.
Nancy Day, aunt of graduate Brandon Day, said the structure of Douglass helped her nephew move along.
"It's amazing what he has done," she said.
Commencement speaker Shane Clayton applauded his fellow classmates and encouraged them to continue in their endeavors and look to the future.
Graduate Mintha Palmer said she is relieved school is over but is now faced with getting a job.
"I'm going to miss being in school," she said. "But there are more things ahead."
Palmer said she will miss walking the hallways of Douglass and seeing her teachers and advisers whom she considers her friends.
In a letter to the students, Gaub wrote that it is a mission of the school to create a learning environment that better fits the needs of students who function in a non-traditional educational setting. The school has approximately 20 full-time teachers who work one-on-one with students to achieve personalized success.
Gaub said he delights in the school's unique educational opportunity for students who may "have a better chance of being successful in life as a result of our efforts."
Students typically arrive at Douglass because they have trouble performing well in a traditional educational setting. According to the school's Web site, the purpose of the school was originally to offer manual training through home economics, art, music, sewing and cooking classes. The school includes close to 20 classrooms, a shop, and a library. .
The school offers block classes with a leisurely pace, said Terry Alexander, a government teacher at Douglass. He said he believes adds to the success of the students.
Alexander said the graduating students worked on a senior portfolio all year long to help them prepare for their future careers.
"They prepare and get credit," he said. He said he believes this improves their interviewing skills, which translates into finding better jobs once they leave Douglass.
"It is quite an accomplishment, and we have a lot of successful people here."