2 students walk the stage at AZ Academy graduation AZ Academy Class of 2014


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ST. CROIX - In an intimate ceremony sometimes filled with raw emotion and always a keen sense of pride, two students received their high school diplomas Tuesday from the AZ Academy in a waterfront ceremony at The Palms at Pelican Cove.

The 17-year-old graduates, Janeek Prince and Kimani Johnson, each had their own unique story.

Prince's story is one of triumph in the face of great adversity. Prince entered the foster care system at birth and has resided at the Queen Louise Home for Children her entire life.

V.I. Human Services Commissioner Christopher Finch, who, along with his wife, has cared for Prince, was on hand to see her graduate.

"I have known her for her whole life," Finch said. "I remember when, as a newborn coming straight from the hospital, that she came into the foster care system. She's had to overcome a lot of obstacles … for her to be able to get here. This is a really proud moment."

"I think it was a great achievement and it challenged me a lot," Prince said of completing high school. She also said her teachers "pushed me, in a good way."

Johnson, donning a wide smile and perfectly coifed hair around the sides of his cap, spoke cheerfully about his time at AZ Academy.

"The experience was phenomenal," he said. "The education is one-of-a-kind and kids should experience it for themselves."

Given the unusually small class size, Johnson, who has attended AZ Academy for his junior and senior years, admitted the miniscule size of the senior class unnerved him initially.

"At first, I was surprised about the amount of kids that were actually in the senior class," he said. But, his perspective later changed.

"It gives us more… one-on-one time," he noted. Plus, it afforded the students the chance to "have a really close bond with the teachers… like a family-type bond," he added.

Johnson said he would miss his teachers; particularly the school's guidance counselor, Berlina Wallace.

"She is the one that really pushed me to the limit to the point where I wanted to break," he said. "But, she is one of the people that I'm really thankful for."

In addition, Johnson praised his mother for her support and guidance, becoming visibly emotional during his address. He said his "mom was the one that was constantly there, no matter what. My mom is a big inspiration and I really love her for that."

In the fall, Johnson will attend the University of the Virgin Islands and eventually take advantage of the university's study abroad program to pursue a degree in recording arts at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla. Prince wishes to become a nutritionist and Finch said plans are being made for her to move off-island in order to pursue her dreams.

Corey Cook, valedictorian, did not attend the ceremony.Number of Graduates: 3

Number of graduates going to college: 2

Number of graduates undecided: 1

Colleges attending: University of the Virgin Islands.

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