WILMINGTON—The students donned caps and gowns, but it was not a typical graduation ceremony.
Students in Wilmington Housing Authorities' YouthBuild program either did not finish high school or are having a hard time finding employment. On Friday, they were recognized for completing the program at UNC-Wilmington. Many of them faced more than just academic struggles along the way.
Timothy McMillon stood among his classmates, smiling in graduation attire. However two months ago, McMillon was wearing a different type of gown.
"I was stabbed 27 times, set on fire and put in the hospital," said McMillon.
The incident happened on Mother's Day this year and landed McMillon in a coma for three days. So far, no one has been arrested for the stabbing and fire on South 7th Street that burned the lower half of McMillon's body.
His story is one of struggle and beating the odds. Yet it is one of many among the students who graduated from the YouthBuild program at UNCW.
Star student in the program Whitney Brown became pregnant when she was a freshman in high school.
"My grandmother got really sick. She used to be my guardian, but she got really sick. I had to drop out of my school to take care of her and my baby," said Brown.
UNC-Wilmington's Dropout Prevention Coalition teamed with the housing authority to provide mentoring and training for students who dropped out of high school or need help getting back on track.
"If they need to get a high school diploma they either go for that or they go for their GED. If they already have that, they gain job skills," said Anna Robertson with the coalition.
More than 30 students participated in the completion ceremony Friday. Now, some will go onto internships. Others already have jobs lined up. Meanwhile, McMillon said making the decision to continue with the program after his near death experience wasn't an easy one, but he knows it was the right choice.