Thousands pooled into the Schottenstein Center in Columbus to watch the ceremony, which had a very different flavor from previous graduations.
Unlike earlier years, students largely populated the stage. Whether they were introducing special presentations or speaking to the crowd, these graduates pulled it off with grace.
Three ECOT students also performed two rousing musical performances. Their names are Mick Clouse, Evan West, and Chad Blashford, but many know them better as New Hollow. On top of energizing the crowd with a pre-ceremony concert, the trio also performed the National Anthem for the first time since Thanksgiving Day in 2010 at the Dallas Cowboy Stadium.
Also taking the podium was Ohio Supreme Court Justice Terrence O'Donnell, serving as this year's commencement speaker.
Throughout the entire event, students talked about saying goodbye to ECOT and taking on the next chapter of their lives. Jenna Scarbro, a graduating senior, said she initially came to ECOT to help her find balance between her studies and her medical struggles.
“I have epilepsy and it was kind of hard to keep up with school, missing so much school with doctor appointments and having my seizure episodes and not making it to school the next day, so it was just easier to stay at home and do all my work,” she said.
She remembered prom as one of the highlights of her time at ECOT.
“I took my fiancé and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” she said. “It was big!”
Before Sunday’s ceremony officially got underway, she admitted to being nervous.
“I’m scared. I have to walk up in front of all these people … it’s huge!” she said. “I’ve never been here before.”
Another graduating student, Janna Andrews, didn’t believe her brick and mortar school was giving a solid education.
“I wanted to try something different,” she said.
She begged her mom to let her switch schools.
“After my freshman year, she finally said ‘OK, let’s look into it.’ She found ECOT and then she enrolled me.”
Andrews smiled, exuding excitement to graduate.
“I’m thankful I’m here,” she said. “It’s been a long process and looking back over everything, just my whole life, it’s one of those closing chapters and I definitely have to give God the glory.”
Kelsie Sacra also came to ECOT because she didn’t like her public school system. Additionally, the young woman didn’t feel like she connected or fit in with those other students. ECOT was a much better fit for her. She cited being “really nervous” as one of the main emotions running through her just prior to the beginning of the ceremony.
“It’s all the people and just the fact I’m growing up,” she said.
Another member of the class of 2013, Tyler Sims, said he’d been with ECOT for three years.
“I switched schools but I came back because I loved it so much,” Sims said. “I started ECOT because I had a little boy and it actually let me start my own home business. So from then on, I’ve just been going through school and been able to work, raise my baby, and have a good time.”
His business focuses on computer and cell phone repair. Sims acknowledged he would miss talking to his teachers.
“All the teachers I’ve had have been awesome; they’ve helped me through so much work and even through struggles,” he said. ”They’ve always been there, so that was really exciting and really helpful.”
Ready to graduate, he listed three emotions: “I love it, I’m excited, and I’m nervous.”
Graduating senior Michael Spurlock joined ECOT in the 10th grade so he could focus on working a full-time job at the corporate offices of Burger King.
“It was an opportunity that came up and I wanted to take it,” he said, adding it would help him “get a jumpstart on everything.”
When asked how he was feeling about graduating, Spurlock nodded and said, “it’s nice … it’s overwhelming a little bit, but it’s nice.”
Graduating day was especially big for senior Christian Stewart: she’s the first member of her family to graduate from high school.
“I feel great I made it this far,” she said, adding she plans to go keep going in her education and pursue college.
To achieve being the first to grasp a high school diploma, she knew she needed the right school. And her previous school wasn’t it.
“I couldn’t learn like I wanted to and I knew I wouldn’t succeed there,” she said.
And so she arrived at ECOT in 2009 … and proudly made family history.
Classmate Theresa Strachan said she was feeling all sorts of emotions at the ceremony.
“I’m excited, I’m nervous, overwhelmed … I’m just happy I made it,” she said, also citing family as the reason she came to ECOT.
“I’ve been with ECOT for this year because my mom got a new job and I stayed at home to watch my baby brother while she works,” she said.
Family also played a role in why Neka Smith, another graduate, decided to enroll.
“I came to ECOT because I moved to a different school and it was a lot different than my home school,” she said. “I was in ECOT previously because I traveled with my dad for middle school. So, I came back to ECOT and I’ve been here since junior year.”
“He travels for work. I’ve been all over the place in the U.S.,” she said, adding attending the online school was “very” convenient.
Like some of her other classmates, she was a bit anxious about stepping onto the stage.
“I’m really clumsy, so I’m nervous I’m going to trip,” she said. “But I feel accomplished.”
Garry Gohlke, director of special events, was enormously proud of everyone at ECOT who made the day possible.
“I just want to give a huge shout-out to all of the ECOT faculty and staff who attended and participated in and worked the ceremony yesterday,” he said. “Everyone pulled on the rope, and I think the ceremony was a huge success and something that all of our students and families who attended will remember for a long, long time,” he added.
Check out photos from the graduation ceremony:
By ECOT School