They came from as far as South Korea and near as Gilbert to join for the first time, grasp hold of a high school diploma and toss their graduation caps after years of home schooling.
For some, it was meeting long-time friends face-to-face for the first time as Chandler-based Alpha Omega Academy, a private Christian distance education school that assists home schooling, held its first commencement.
"Wow," was all Jennifer Sanguigni of Gilbert said she could think as she turned her tassel. She began home schooling after ninth grade, when her father died, forcing her to grow up fast and distancing her from others her age.
"I could teach myself while my mother worked," she said. "I’m proud of myself and so is my mother."
The 17 graduates, ages 15 to 18, relished their spotlight, an honor often bypassed by those who go the homeschooling route. Most chose the alternative because they moved often, or wanted to integrate Christianity into an at-your-own-pace education, they said.
Fifteen-year-old Patricia Dillard, an award-winning harpist from Kansas, entertained her fellow graduates.
For the Densmore family, it was the children’s acting dreams and the move to Los Angeles that led to Internet home schooling.
Graduate Alexandra Densmore and sister Elizabeth act in theater and commercials.
Michael Farris, president of Patrick Henry College in Washington, D.C., the only college with a majority of homeschooled students, wished students off with one simple request:
"Congratulations and live well," he said. "The entire world is thirsty for your leadership."
The academy has about 5,000 students around the world. For more information, call (602) 438-2717.