Thursday's ceremony was as unique as the graduates participating.




More than 100 extended family and well-wishers showed up on the green lawns of Hidden Springs Wellness Center to support Elias Alexander and Natasha Barnes, and the educational path that helped these two home-schoolers earn acceptance into top universities.




"The service I hope to do in the world will come through what I want to do. And that wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for the home-schooling program," said Alexander, who will be attending Northwestern University in the fall to study theatre.




School administrators praised the home-schooling program and the success of its students both creatively and academically during the evening's events.




"It's a wonderful partnership we have with our home-schooling families," said Juli Di Chiro, superintendent of Ashland High School.




AHS Principal Jeff Schlect emphasized the reciprocal relationship between traditional schools and their home-based families.




"These families and kids really thanked us but what I said to the families is 'right back at you. Thank you for what you've brought to Ashland High School,'" he said. "It's a mutual relationship."




With the help of Willow Wind Community Learning Center, AHS, Southern Oregon University and many hardworking parents, home-schoolers in Ashland have an option to explore other paths of education outside of public school.




Alexander's education has been dictated by both himself and his mother, Shoshana Alexander. Combining a variety of learning methods allowed Alexander to be educated on his own terms, which he says allowed him to become more confident.




"He would sit down and say 'No, I have my own way to learn,'" Shoshana Alexander said. "And that has made home schooling heaven and hell."




Teaching her son really meant figuring out how he learned, she said.




Barnes' mother, Suzanne Barnes, says that home schooling is really about the family experience.




"A family involved in home schooling is just parenting," she said. "Our motivation for doing it was to help them. I didn't want their peers to raise them, we wanted to raise them. We thought we could provide education excellence."




Juggling three grades of education for Barnes and her two brothers challenged the parents but both say they wouldn't have done it any other way.




This fall, Barnes is off to St. John's University, a top university known for its well-rounded liberal education. Students are required to take four years of language (ancient Greek and French), mathematics, interdisciplinary study, three years of laboratory science (biology, physics, chemistry), one year of music and various discussion electives. Barnes will also read the classics in chronological order.




"There's no major. You just read all the great classics and discuss them, which is what I really love to do," Barnes said.




She credits her success at getting into a good college to the hard work her family had put into her education.




"The only way I can possibly repay my parents is by going and giving and living and that is exactly what I intend to do," Barnes said.




Barnes said that people often ask her if she felt deprived of something by choosing to be home-schooled. In actuality she felt privileged. She participated in theatre at AHS, along with Alexander, and was expected to efficiently manage her own educational time.




While hundreds of their peers will enjoy the traditional walk across the graduation stage Friday, both Alexander and Barnes said Thursday's ceremony puts a better finishing touch on their experience. Home-schooled students are not allowed to participate in AHS' graduation because they are not considered students of the high school, a fact that the only two graduates participating Thursday said does not bother them.




"Ashland High School has been a big part of our education but it really had been an extension of what we've done at home," Barnes said. "We needed to bring all aspects together to make today happen."




Plus, she says, she just loves to plan parties.