Tammy Burrus was attending someone else’s high school graduation last year when she was overcome with emotion.

“I could not stop crying at that graduation,” she said.

She was happy for the graduate, for sure, but Burrus couldn’t help but dwell on her own missed opportunity — the day in 1982 when she should have walked across the stage.

Today, at age 51, she finally made it.

Excel Center graduates cheer their classmates.
Excel Center graduates cheer their classmates.
PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Elliott

Burrus was a featured speaker and one of the 129 graduates who received their diplomas today during an Excel Center graduation at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School.

Excel adult charter high schools give another chance to students who thought they’d lost their shot at graduation when they were teens. In all, 463 students from Excel Centers in central Indiana earned diplomas this year.

After missing her chance to graduate as a teenager, Burrus made several attempts to earn what was then called a GED, which requires passing a high school equivalency exam.

“I couldn’t pass the math portion,” she said.

She went on to other things, but always wished there was a way she could finish school.

She decided to go back to school shortly after her graduation ceremony breakdown when her niece died unexpectedly at age 36. Burrus said she felt empty and depressed. Her niece, she said, had accomplished so much in her short life and yet she had never finished high school.

So when Burrus learned about the Excel Center program from a relative, she decided to enroll. Before she knew it, she was at her first day of school for orientation.

That was almost exactly a year ago — June 11, 2015 — and she remembers filling out an orientation survey when she hit the question: “What would stop you from achieving this goal?”

She pondered the question for a moment, steeled her resolve and wrote: “Nothing but death can keep me from it.”

Burrus now has the diploma she always wished for, and a certification as a pharmacy technician.

But  more importantly, she gave her 85-year-old mother a proud day of watching from the audience.

“I am so honored to be your first to graduate high school,”Burrus told her mother with a smile and a two-handed wave.