On Tuesday, not only were 100 seniors at the Jefferson City Academic Center honored for attaining enough credits to receive diplomas, the school itself was honored with the state School of Character Award.
Only 15 schools - out of 3,000 across Missouri - were chosen for the same honor.
"And JCAC is the only alternative school to have won the award. It's very unique," said Peggy Krokstrom, program coordinator for the CharacterPlus non-profit organization that handed out the award.
Developing positive character traits in young people is the CharacterPlus mission; in Jefferson City the program strives to instill 11 key traits - ideals such as honesty, compassion and trustworthiness - in students.
JCAC is one of only three alternative schools to be chosen as a national finalist; school leaders expect to know by next Monday if Jefferson City is a winner, said Krokstrom.
Both state and national evaluators have visited this year to better understand the school's culture.
Krokstrom said they were struck by JCAC students who talked about how much their teachers cared, and how that knowledge has helped them know they can make a difference.
Tuesday night was a night to celebrate. Students received awards for their contributions to several service learning projects; teachers were recognized for their hard work throughout the year. Three veterans - Robert Hogge, Claude Busby and Skip Brown - were honored with student-designed quilts.
But it was the students' smiles that beamed the brightest Tuesday evening. Without the opportunity to study at JCAC, many of the students - all considered "at risk" for quitting school - say they never would have graduated.
Officially, the students are part of the Jefferson City High School Class of 2013 and will cross the stage with their peers in May. But Thursday was a chance for an exuberant JCAC-style celebration.
"This is our own celebration, so (the seniors) can be recognized," explained JCAC Principal Deann Fischer. "We put our own spin on it."
When Steffon Barton bounded to the stage, it was with fists upraised.
Afterward, he said it's a "wonderful feeling" to know he's going to graduate.
"Everybody was down on me. They didn't think I could get anywhere. Looks like I got somewhere," he said.
Senior Brooklynn Stevenson told listeners that "each of us had a different story."
"And we needed somebody different ... somebody who would think about our future and not our past," she said.
First impressions are not forever, she reminded listeners. "You must always have faith in people. And more importantly, you must have faith in yourself," she said.
Robert Taylor-Bey said before he got to JCAC he was perceived by others as an angry, disrespectful kid with no future.
"This school has become a home away from home, a place where I feel both accepted and respected," he said. "Here we all contribute to the success of our school and each other."
He was also one of the kids who thanked Fischer for her work at the school, and presented her with a bouquet.
"She's the greatest principal in the world," he told the gathering of parents and teachers. "We've never had a better principal. We love you, Dr. Fischer."