COLUMBIA — Families and friends of the MU High School graduates stirred in their seats with large smiles on their faces and their index fingers hovering over the camera shutter.
As the jazz ensemble began to play, 17 graduating students slowly filed into the room.
The audience all stood to welcome them — with the exception of two parents who watched their daughter’s graduation from the comfort of their home in Sri Lanka, more than 9,000 miles away.
MU High School’s 2012 commencement ceremony was held Saturday afternoon in MU's Memorial Union. Of nearly 100 graduating seniors, 17 were in attendance. This graduating class is made up of students from 15 states and 12 countries.
Caitlin Yoder, 18, whose parents watched her graduate via Skype, traveled all the way from Sri Lanka for the ceremony.
Home-schooled since third grade, she never anticipated that she would be able to walk across a stage to receive her diploma. When they discovered MU High held a graduation ceremony, she and her mother made sure she could be there to enjoy the moment.
Yoder has lived in Sri Lanka, where her father is self-employed, for six years. Because she is often traveling to countries such as India and Thailand and because of the poor quality of education available in Sri Lanka, Yoder said online classes through MU High were the best fit for her.
“There are so many things to do overseas,” Yoder said. “It was helpful to have such a flexible school schedule.”
Next fall, Yoder plans on attending Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., to study nursing.
Saturday marked MU High's 13th graduation ceremony. Beginning with only 13 students, the program has grown but continues to cater to the needs of a variety of students looking to receive their high school diploma through online courses.
MU High graduates took their high school courses online for a number of reasons.
Graduate Joelle Blair, 18, of St. Joseph, chose to become an online student after she had her gallbladder removed in September 2009. An undiagnosed gallbladder infection caused her to miss a lot of school. The more she missed school, the more she struggled to keep up with assignments. MU High's program helped her move at her own pace.
“There was a comfort in knowing I’d be able to get my work done without as much stress,” Blair said. “Regular high schools seem more strict with their deadlines.”
Many ofBlair's family members attended MU, and she said she is glad to feel connected to the university.
Blair will be attending the Beauty University of St. Joseph starting in August.
MU High counselor Alicia Bixby said the program benefits students for whatever reason they might need because of its flexibility.
“Students learn to be self-motivated and self-disciplined to better prepare them for college,” Bixby said. “They don’t always get that in a normal classroom.”
Ben Foster, 18, of Kansas City, said the distance learningcourses were a better alternative to public school classes for him.
“You’re educating yourself,” Foster said. “You’re pushing yourself rather than someone telling you to go to school every day. It takes a lot of self-initiative.”
Foster began the online courses halfway through his junior year in order to have more time for work. He plans on attending Missouri University of Science and Technology to study nuclear or chemical engineering.
With MU High, Foster said students "get a better education."
“And you get more free time if you do it right," he said.
Commencement speaker Eryca Neville, Douglass High School principal, congratulated the graduates for taking the initiative to complete a self-paced program.
“By choosing to attend MU High School, you have shown the capacity to choose and thrive in your own path,” Neville said in her address to the students.
The 2012 graduating class had 94 students, according to the school's website.
The school has had an accredited diploma program since 1999, and students at MU High have the opportunity to take self-paced, dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses online.