GREENVILLE — The West Michigan Virtual School continues to grow in its second year, which was made evident Wednesday evening by the successes of 46 students who earned their high school diplomas through the educational institution.
The virtual school, which began its local roots in Greenville in September 2012, launched with 17 students, 10 of them graduating last year.
This year, with the addition of five virtual school centers throughout West Michigan, more than 400 students are being served as this years’ graduates set the path for others to follow.
The virtual school is an outlet for students where the teachings of a traditional classroom aren’t enough. It’s designed to help students catch up on credits and work at their own pace while giving them a flexible schedule to do so.
The 46 graduates who earned their diplomas Wednesday at the Greenville High School Performing Arts Center came from the school districts of Central Montcalm, Greenville, Tri County, Montabella, Vestaburg and Ionia.
This year’s honor speaker, Gabriella Swain, 17, a 2014 virtual school graduate from Ionia, delivered a unique message to her fellow graduates.
“We are not special,” she said. “We’re not Spiderman, Superman or Bill Gates.”
Swain told the story of a friend of hers, Cody, who unfortunately took his own life. But Swain described Cody as someone who had the heart to urge people to keep people moving forward.
“Cody wasn’t special either … but he thought that didn’t mean that he wasn’t important,” she said. “I’m a firm believer here that everyone on the face of the planet is important.”
Swain said though none of her fellow graduates were “special” in her eyes, each and every one of them was equally important with the potential to go on to do great things.
“Just because we aren’t special doesn’t mean we aren’t important, and you’ll never succeed if you don’t try,” she said. “The push you need is just to believe in yourself … I see a room full of skill, full of knowledge and full of potential. I’m proud of you and I’m proud of us. If you can succeed once you can succeed again.”
Swain was followed by keynote speaker Pete Haines, superintendent of Greenville Public Schools.
Greenville Public Schools was the first local district to partner with Berrien Springs Public Schools to bring the West Michigan Virtual School to the area. Haines was one of several key members who worked to create that relationship to provide another avenue for students to graduate high school.
“I am both proud and honored to be a part of your celebration,” he said.
Haines went on to reflect on the significance of the graduates’ achievement.
“This week marks the end of an educational journey for millions of students your age,” he said. “Graduation and a high school diploma, though hopefully not the end of your formal training, is certainly a benchmark and hopefully a point of reflection in your lives.”
Haines said the graduates have set a new example for others to follow in order to find success in life.
“For most of those millions, the path was really quite defined, it was well known, well traveled, and relatively safe,” he said. “The path you have chosen and navigated successfully, was substantially more challenging, and for that you should be proud, because you took the road less traveled,”
“You braved a wilderness so that future students could select from a broader array of pathways to their own educational attainment,” he continued. “We all owe you a great debt and generations will remember what you’ve done.”
One by one the students then crossed the main stage to receive their diplomas, and the second graduating class of the West Michigan Virtual School walked away successful, blazing a trail for future students to follow.