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In the words of York Adams Academy graduate Makenzie Custer, she and her fellow classmates on the stage Tuesday evening were there because they had "learned too early that life isn't fair."

"This school gave us a second chance," she continued.

YAA partners with 18 high schools in the area to provide an alternative education for students who are at risk of dropping out of high school or not graduating on time. The school opened in 1990 and boasts 3,695 students having met the requirements for graduation since it first opened its doors.

On Tuesday evening, 74 students walked the stage to become part of the school's success story. Because YAA holds two graduations each year, one in the winter and one in the spring, the grand total of graduates from YAA this school year is 116 students. These students receive a dual diploma, one from YAA and one from their home district.

YAA Advisory Board President Ellen Freireich explained during her address to the graduates and their families that YAA is very different from a typical high school, with 15-hour school weeks and no band or sports.

"Many of you have not had the straight road to graduation, but you pushed forward," Freireich said.

Students: Four students spoke at the ceremony. Each was chosen by the teaching staff at the academy, making the honor even greater, according to YAA Director David Detzel. The students spoke of the tough life circumstances that drove them to attend YAA.

For Hannah Hershey, it was the death of a close friend nearly a year ago that caused her to "lose faith" in herself.

Samantha Jones said she made the decision to attend YAA because her struggles with depression and anxiety were causing her to miss a lot of school days. She will attend York College in the fall, something she attributes to YAA and the impact it had on her life.

"I found myself actually enjoying the work," Jones said. "YAA became about more than graduation. It became a place I enjoyed."

She dedicated the evening to her late father, ending her speech with, "May he rest in peace."

Christopher Starner said he learned that his girlfriend was expecting a child while he was struggling to stay interested in high school, particularly after learning he wouldn't be graduating on time. It was then he knew he needed to graduate to provide for his future family. He thanked his girlfriend and his son for their support during his speech.

Custer closed out the student speeches, and she chose not to focus on the future during her speech, as so many other graduation speakers do, Instead, she talked of the significant feat she and her fellow classmates achieved by defying the "path that was set for us."

"We will roll up our sleeves and get back to everyday life with vigor because we are graduates and we laugh in the face of statistics," Custer said.

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