They came from all kinds of circumstances and battled a variety of obstacles.
But the 18 students who graduated from Mavericks High School on Thursday night at the Largo Cultural Center had one thing in common: They probably wouldn't have gotten their diplomas without the nontraditional methods used at the charter school.
"This class is close to my heart," said James Cardwell II, Mavericks High Pinellas North administrator. "It's the school's second graduation, but the first to graduate with me as administrator. I've learned as much from the students as I've given to them. It's as if it's my graduation, too."
The school opened in August with the aim of helping trim Pinellas County's 26 percent dropout rate. Its first class — three students — graduated in December.
Assistant administrator Lenor Johnson said the school prides itself on building relationships and teaching not only academics but social skills while allowing students to work at their own level and pace.
"We share with them that they deserve an education, they deserve to graduate," Johnson said. "They deserve to fight for what they want in life."
At Mavericks, students leave with a portfolio, including a diploma, resume and cover letter. And they take with them the knowledge — written in the school pledge — that striving for excellence doesn't mean being perfect, but giving one's best, learning from a mistake, not dwelling on it and moving forward.
While 18 students earned diplomas, only 17 walked. One chose not to because of family issues. Many students in the Mavericks program have family issues, some have health issues, some self-esteem problems and some simply cannot succeed in a traditional high school environment.
"All our students have a story," said Johnson, of Clearwater. "One student was pregnant and when she was on maternity leave took online classes. She came back to graduate. She didn't give up."
Regardless of past circumstances, the 2010 graduates are moving on. Two enlisted in the armed forces, two enrolled in Pinellas Technical Educational Center and the remainder in colleges.
Class valedictorian Margot Oleyar will enter St. Petersburg College's nursing program. "I had different illnesses to deal with," said Oleyar, 17, of Largo. "Going to Mavericks was a way to cope, focus on school, but do my own thing instead of waiting on the rest of the class to finish."
Latasha Coy, 17, of Indian Rocks Beach graduated with honors. She's heading to a Michigan community college and a career as a dental assistant.
"I liked the self-pace," Coy said. "I focused on whatever subject I needed to, however long or short a time it took to finish."
Eric Guzman joined the Army and will head to Fort Jackson, S.C., in October.
"I was doing bad in school, came here and started doing all my work," said Guzman, 18, of Largo.
Frank Biden, Vice President Joe Biden's brother, attended the ceremony as a partner in the Mavericks in Education program, founded in 2007. Biden told students he didn't fit well into a traditional school environment, due to a severe stutter until age 12.
"I have deep appreciation and a heartfelt kinship with each and every one of you," he said.
He paraphrased a Michelangelo quote about seeing an angel in the marble and carving until he set him free.
"Each of you has put your hands on the marble and released the angel," Biden said. "Now go forward. Bring your message of hope and inspiration to all those people out there who so desperately need it."