Principal Candis Dawson leads the procession for The Excel Center graduation carrying a picture of a student who was killed earlier in the year. (Courtesy photo)

The Excel Center officials “let loose” while celebrating its recent graduating class in December. 

“Graduation is the best time in the building because we let loose and truly celebrate,” said Excel Principal Candis Dawson. “One thing I tell the students is that I’m big on celebrating the little things because they’re more important than what people think.”

Dawson said the celebrations include class shirts, superlatives, dress-up days, senior head photos. If a student has a child enrolled in the school’s child-care center, the child also graduates with them.

The Excel Center is an adult education school in Memphis. It is a public contract school governed by Memphis-Shelby County Schools. Memphis-Shelby County residents 18 and over can earn their high school diplomas.

The school also is operated under Goodwill Excel Center Mid-South as an extension of Memphis Goodwill.

Charles Kilpatrick’s graduation day from The Excel Center was also his son’s graduation day from the Little Learner Academy. (Courtesy photo)

After working at different high schools in Memphis, Dawson decided to work at Excel. 

“… I was able to connect with children in a traditional school setting … dealing with barriers that children aren’t able to deal with on their own,” said Dawson.

She continued, “So it clicked to me maybe it’s my time to work with adults to help break those generational curses; to help build those life skills that they’ll need, and then it’ll trickle down to the children…Holistically it will help the school system and the child … from repeating the cycle.”

Eighty-five percent of Excel graduates are currently employed or furthering their education. 

In an Excel video, a former student talks about dropping out of school after becoming a teen mom, after struggling to find a balance between school and motherhood. After working various jobs, nothing seemed to work out to make ends meet for her family. 

The light clicked for her when she applied for a job at Methodist University Hospital, where she was required to show her high school diploma.

After hearing about the Excel Center through a friend, Yolanda decided to go back to school to receive her diploma. 

When she first walked into Excel, she immediately fell in love with the environment, especially with the staff, lauding the treatment and help she received. She eventually graduated with a 3.4 GPA. She later enrolled at Southwest Tennessee Community College, where she majored in criminal justice. 

Gwendova Cooks leaves no doubt about how she feels as a graduate. (Courtesy photo)

The Excel Centers classes Monday through Thursday are one hour and 20 minutes. Classes on Friday are held from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The teachers can also meet with students individually, as well.

The school also offers a drop-in center, a program that offers free daycare for up to 4 hours while the student is in class. 

Students are offered free MATA bus passes if they need help with transportation. There are life coaches to help students with personal issues and give advice. 

According to the Excel website, Students can also earn free college credit and industry-recognized certifications while earning their diplomas.

Support for a graduate. (Courtesy photo)

Every service provided by the Excel Center including books, classes, learning materials, child-care center, and support services are free for the students.