Stephen Pacheco had imagined speaking at the R-5 High School graduation, but that didn't make it any easier to get through his speech.
Pacheco choked up when sharing the story of his struggles at Central High School after a promising start that saw him make the varsity football team as a freshman.
But the tears really came when he began to talk about the support of his family when he came to the alternative R-5 school at age 16 with an uncertain future.
It was an emotional moment, but Pacheco thanked his family for helping him get to graduation day.
"I don't care what anybody thinks, I'm a mama's boy," he said during his speech.
Pacheco and more than 100 of his classmates at the R-5 High School — District 51's alternative high school that allows students to move at their own pace — became the school's 48th graduating class Friday at a commencement ceremony at Brownson Arena at Colorado Mesa University.
While special for any student, graduation day is somewhat more meaningful for these students, most of whom have stories similar to Pacheco's, who said graduating was the greatest feeling he had ever experienced.
Fellow graduate Magali Fuentes came to R-5 after having a baby and said coming to the school was the best decision she made. Now she is graduating a year early with hopes of becoming a nurse.
"Having a baby didn't ruin my life, it only gave me a new one," she said during her graduation speech.
A telling moment as to what this class has been through came later in the ceremony when Principal Donald Trujillo asked students to stand when he made a statement that applied to them. Many stood to indicate they had a full-time job while going through school, about half had dropped out of school at least once, seven of them had children of their own and nearly all of them had been told by someone in their lives that they would never make it to graduation day.
Trujillo highlighted some of the projects many of the students had accomplished while at R-5, including starting their own businesses or creating videos of Colorado National Monument.
But most important was the perseverance they displayed and the lessons they had learned that they could take out into the world with them.
"You learned that patience with learning is more important than turning in assignments," Trujillo said.