Friends and family of the 22 students graduating from Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program packed the gym at the former Garfield School on Thursday, May 23.

Julian Kitto, Drum Keeper and AIE CHS tutor and Alijah Petite, 14, performed Mikinaak as the ceremony began.

"The students at CAAEP are students that have experienced barriers in their educational progress while enrolled at a mainstream high school," Principal Connie Hyde said. "Such barriers can include, homelessness, anxiety/depression, failed classes, poor attendance and so on. These students come to the ALC for credit recovery, smaller class sizes, direct mental health services and more one-on-one with staff."

Class speaker Cheyenne Stone completed her high school education while living on her own and working full time. She began her speech by telling fellow students to take out their cellphones, and she did the same. She turned her back to the crowd and took a selfie, much to the amusement of the audience.

Stone thanked the teachers individually, including the secretary who texted her every day to encourage Stone to keep attending school.

"We are very proud of our students," Hyde said. "Finishing high school for many of them is an amazing accomplishment, given the many barriers they need to rise above to get that diploma."