For many, it was a long hard road, full of twists and turns, with an uncertain ending.

But make it to the end they did.

As of Wednesday night, eight students from the Ombudsman Alternative Education program can officially call themselves graduates.

Nathen Bailey, Harold Burns-Welch, Dustin Courser and Alexandria Jensen received their Ombudsman High School diploma. Nathan Baker, Aaron Bullard, Christopher Lee and Mackenzie Tase earned not only their Ombudsman diploma, but also a diploma from their school districts.

Burns-Welch and Tase received the President’s Award for Educational Excellence, which indicates straight A’s. Lee received the President’s Award for Educational Achievement, which indicates a “tremendous growth” in his education. Jensen received the American Citizenship Pin, which is given to students who inspire and encourage their fellow students.

Jensen addressed her fellow classmates during the ceremony. She spoke about how they will never have to worry about being late or getting detentions anymore and the friendships they forged throughout the years, with classmates and teachers. She also spoke about losing “the certainty of tomorrow,” but urged her classmates to continue bettering themselves. She gave a tongue-in-cheek warning to the parents of the graduates.

“As today becomes tomorrow, what were our dreams are now our opportunities,” Jensen said. “Today truly is the first day of the rest of our lives. Parents: Don’t worry. We’ll move in and out a few more times and probably ask to borrow some money.”

Ombudsman alumnus of the class of 2013 Miranda Redzinski addressed the class during the commencement. She offered words of camaraderie, advice and even a quote from author Elbert Hubbard.

“I am very proud of all of you,” she said. “I also had my own struggles. Work hard, have fun and never give up along the way. Don’t take life too seriously; You’ll never get out alive.”

The Ombudsman program, based in Stanton, is an alternative education approach for students who may not have the opportunity to graduate otherwise. Deemed at-risk, the students come from a variety of backgrounds which oftentimes involve problems and obstacles which are disadvantageous to their education. The program takes those students and gives them a more flexible, personable and “judgement free” education. Many students who were otherwise struggling find themselves flourishing at Ombudsman.

“It was difficult at first,” Tase said. “I don’t know if I would have graduated if I didn’t go to Ombudsman. I used to get really bad grades but now I have straight A’s.”

Tase is going to attend the Bel-rea Institute of Animal Technology in Denver, Colo., where she will begin an education which eventually will lead her to becoming a veterinarian.

Bailey also credits his graduation to Ombudsman. That and the support he had from those who love him. Bailey is planning on attending Montcalm Community College where he will study business management.

“It’s a big accomplishment and I feel pretty good,” Bailey said. “It was challenging and there were a lot of potholes, but I had a lot of help from friends and family along the way.”

During commencement, former Montcalm Area Intermediate School District superintendent Scott Koenigsknecht took a few moments to leave the students with some words of encouragement as they step out the door as graduates. He spoke about how freedom becomes responsibility and with responsibly comes adversity. Adversity is one of the greatest gifts one can receive.

“There’s an old Japanese proverb that says, ‘Fall down seven times. Stand up eight,’” Koenigsknecht said. “Always remember this bit of wisdom … and don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

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