Theresa Constantine's education plans changed when she became pregnant at 16 and enrolled in a school program for expectant mothers.
She eventually went on to hold jobs and raise her children, assuming all along she had fulfilled her high school requirements.
Nearly 20 years later, after spending the 2011-12 school year working as a lunchroom and recess staffer at Crestview Elementary School in District 833, Constantine applied for a summer job with a temp agency.
During the application process, the agency checked on Constantine's records and told her there was no record of her graduating high school.
Constantine was stunned.
"I needed to do it," she said of going back to earn her high school diploma.
For the past nine months Constantine held a full-time job, took care of her five children with the help of her husband and worked toward her high school diploma in the evenings.
Last week, at age 38, Constantine was among 11 students at District 833's High School Diploma Center graduation. Constantine, of Cottage Grove, earned a Park High School diploma.
"I'm so happy," she said afterward.
There were 29 total diploma center graduates this year, but since they work at their own pace not all appeared at the June 5 graduation ceremony. This year's students ranged in age from 17 to the late 30s, and they all had a different journey, said Jim Stocco, who leads the diploma center.
"Everybody has a story to tell," he said. "We're just fortunate enough to be here to help them finish their story."
Kylie Koeplin finished her high school career early.
A 17-year-old junior at Woodbury High School this spring, life changes led Koeplin to decide to leave the traditional classroom and finish her high school requirements through the Diploma Center.
She finished all 15 credits of her senior year in the past three months, graduating a year early.
"This lady worked really hard," Stocco said of Koeplin.
Koeplin said finishing early was difficult, especially fulfilling the English reading and writing requirements, but the diploma center staff helped her meet her goal. Now she wants to enroll in a nursing program at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.
"It's hard, but I feel like it will be worth it in the end," she said.
The diploma center's Class of 2013 included Samuel Blohm, Lisa Bronson, Jacob Campbell, Kaleb Cariveau, Joshua Casanova, Rosa Castaneda, Theresa Constantine, Chrysta Dague, Jonathan Flores, Kelly Helmbrecht, Benjamin Hoppe, Timothy Kodluboy, Kylie Koeplin, Samantha Kroah, Ariana Litton, John Lor, Luis Lozano, Luis Mars, William McNamara, Alexis Nichols, Kenneth Nitti-Weigel, Chyla Richard, Jason Rowe, Brandon Stephen, Tyler Stewart, Carolyn Thompson, Savannah Weiden, Charmain Weiss and Monica You.