New Horizons High School valedictorian Tomasa Riojas told fellow graduates Friday she wanted to drop out of school, pack her things and leave town after her father died in September.
But teachers and students at the Pasco alternative school wouldn't let her.
"I toughened up and found a reason to stay," she said. "Today we have a story to tell. We are New Horizons High School graduates."
Principal Brian Leavitt told her and the other 28 seniors they were all guilty of violating school disciplinary code for "willful disobedience."
"I've concluded that the students are here before you because they did not listen to those who did not believe they could succeed," Leavitt told the audience at the Gjerde Center at Columbia Basin College.
Some of the students had children, faced disciplinary issues or were considered incapable of graduating.
Students' choice speaker Catherine Nanyanzi told the audience she came to the school because it was small. That helped her after she moved to Pasco from Africa.
"I enrolled at New Horizons because they were willing to work with me to do what was needed for the foreign student," she said.
Teacher Seth Johnson referred to basketball legend Michael Jordan in telling the students that they only fail if they don't learn from their mistakes.
"You will never meet your full potential if you are afraid to take the game-winning shot out of fear you will miss," he said.
Cathleen Garretson was salutatorian.