Graduates from Freeport High School walked across the stage at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland last Sunday and received their diplomas. This momentous occasion, which occurs at high schools across our nation, gives us reason to pause and celebrate the many accomplishments of our students.

For the Regional School Unit 5 graduates and others, it serves as a stepping stone and a time of looking forward to the next phase of their lives. Out of the 114 graduates this year, 88 plan to go directly to college (77 percent), five will be doing a “gap” year and then college (4 percent), five hope to join the military (4 percent), and 16 will go directly into the workforce (14 percent).

In the Class of 2017, not all students who began ninth grade with this cohort graduated last Sunday. In the Class of 2016, 94 percent of the students from FHS who began high school four years earlier earned their diploma. Although we always strive for 100 percent of our students to graduate with their cohort, this target has not been realized in the last five years, nor has it in other high schools.

In the school year 2014-2015, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the cohort graduation rate was 83 percent nationally. Washington, D.C., and New Mexico struggled the most, with only 69 percent of their students being able to graduate in four years.

This illustrates the reality that for some of our students, it will take more time and a different pathway to earn their high school education. As a society, it is important to reinforce the message to individuals who struggle to reach this milestone that the door is never closed permanently.

My mother was not a traditional student. She left high school before finishing in four years, had four children, and realized that her dream of being a nurse could not be accomplished without further education. Once she made up her mind, she enrolled in adult education classes and gave it her all.

As a young girl, I remember her studying at night along side me, completing her homework so that she could earn her GED. The moment she passed the GED exam was just as meaningful for her, if not more, than the graduates that I shook hands with last Sunday as they walked across the stage of the Merrill Auditorium. Not long after, my mom enrolled in college and became a registered nurse and had many rewarding years in this vocation.

Just recently, a 55-year-old man walked through the doors of adult ed in RSU 5 and shared his goal of being ready to earn his high school education through what is now called the HiSet exam (no longer the GED). We celebrated and welcomed him, acknowledging what a big step this was.

Plato said the unexamined life is not worth living. It is never too late to examine your life, set new goals, and strive to reach your dreams. At this time of year with many graduates earning their diplomas, it is a time of joyous celebration, and celebrate we should. But let’s not forget to continue to support those who may have missed this mark. For them, it is important that we encourage them as they persevere and finish their individual journey, even though it may take more time and a different pathway.

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at [email protected]