It’s been a difficult journey for 21 students at the Grand Island Ombudsman Center, but they’ve reached their goal.

Those 21 students graduated Monday afternoon at the Center, which is located near the Dollar Tree and Hibbett Sports. One of those students walked in the ceremony, but technically finished in December. Two additional students will finish May 25, but were included on Monday’s program.

Kathleen Cattle with the Grand Island Ombudsman Center said there were a handful of juniors that made it a goal to finish early. “And they finished,” Cattle said.

The room was packed, with people still coming in throughout the ceremony. Friends and family filled the walkways by the chairs near the walls — no seat was left empty. As the graduates entered during the procession, everyone stared with proud smiles. Linda Sanders, the Center’s director, and Grand Island Public Schools Superintendent Tawana Grover spoke.

“You certainly have made a commitment to your goals and stayed the course,” Grover said to the students who sat in front of her donning purple gowns.

“Only you know your individual story,” Grover said. She told the students that she saw them, collectively, as a group of accomplished young men and women.

Sanders said she has a rock with a quote that reminded her of the Class of 2017 at the center, “Some people make things happen, some watch things happen, while others wonder what has happened.”

She said she and the teachers sometimes wondered if some of these students would make it this far, as they struggled at times. However, Sanders said every one of those students overcame that, as they sat in front of her ready to earn their diplomas.

“Every one of us could be each of the people mentioned on the stone,” Sanders said. “You had to sweat, you had to work. You had to wait when you needed help. But you kept coming back.”

One of those students that pushed through, even until Sunday night, is Nora Medina.

Medina graduated as a junior and accomplished her goal. But it wasn’t easy. She said she started skipping school and lacked motivation to go. She had about three or four more classes to finish, she said. Her brother kept giving her “wake-up calls” and encouraged her to not give up and to finish school.

She didn’t know if she was going to make it, but after talking with the people at Ombudsman, they let her work on her classes over the weekend. She was determined to finish.

“I said, ‘I have to get this done, it’s tomorrow’,” Medina said.

She messaged Cattle when she finished her classwork at 11 p.m. Sunday, just one hour before the day she’d graduate. Medina worked for hours, knowing a diploma was in her reach.

“I was exhausted,” Medina said. “I feel relieved and proud of myself (for graduating).”

Sanders handed each student their diploma and told an anecdote about each person. The graduates shook Grover’s hand, grasping a diploma in their other hand.

Sanders said the Class of 2017 really stood up to the challenge. She said if not for the opportunity at the Center, most of the students would be high school dropouts. Sanders said she enjoys getting to be apart of the students’ success and watching them grow and graduate.

“It’s just a highlight of the year,” Sanders said.