In the past few weeks, tens of thousands of students graduated from more than 400 public high schools in the city, but at a few small schools, the ceremony is particularly significant since every graduate had, at some point, dropped out. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
They are words all 59 of these graduates, at some point, thought they'd never hear, as spoken by one student: "Let's take a second to realize that we are the class of 2014."
"I'm so happy that I actually made it," said valedictorian Quanna Smith.
At Brooklyn Democracy Academy, students arrive having either dropped out or fallen extremely behind at their previous high school.
It's one of more than two dozen so-called "transfer schools" that have opened in the city in the past decade. They're schools that take students who are short high school credits and getting closer to age 21, where they're no longer entitled to a free education. Then, with a lot of extra support, the schools fast track the students' education.
"I just didn't feel like I was on the right path," said student Dayvon Coleman. "And plus, my daughter, she's 3, so I don't want her to grow up and think that that's the normal thing to do."
To afford all the extra support, each school is partnered with a community-based organization that provides a full counseling staff. From the moment students walk in the door, they're assigned a counselor.
"By any means necessary, we make sure that we get that student re-engaged into high school," said program director Cherise Littlejohn.
"We go out into the community, knock on your door. 'Hey, why aren't you in school today?' Go to the basketball court. 'Get in the car!' You know, so 'What! What are you doing here?' But it works," said senior advocate counselor Shirley Vaughn.
Of course, it doesn't always work. The school's attendance hovers around 63 percent, about 20 percentage points lower than the overall average attendance for city high schools. And on paper, the graduation rate looks bad. Six years after these students began high school, 46 percent have graduated from Brooklyn Democracy, 20 percent are still enrolled and 30 percent have dropped out.
However, students and families say every student would have dropped out if it wasn't for this school.
"They took their time out to show him that he's able to do things in spite of his past," said parent Yolanda Holliday.
Now, 51 of the 59 graduates are headed to college.