It’s been an up and down year for some former students of Brightwood College.
Financial and accreditation problems forced the non-profit college’s doors to close unexpectedly in December, leaving some students to think the doors had closed on their futures, too.
“The dean of nursing comes in and says, starts crying and tells us, ‘Oh, the school’s being shut down. We need everyone off campus,’” student Michelle Zavala told NBC 7 after the closure. “We didn’t think this was going to happen because today was the first day of class.”
The spirits of some students were lifted weeks later when they found out they’d still be able to graduate. The only roadblock left was reviving the graduation ceremony plans.
The ceremony was originally scheduled to take place at Town and Country San Diego’s convention center in Mission Valley, but when the school closed the ceremony was canceled.
"I was really upset. My whole family was really excited to show up and I was amped up and when they said there might not be a graduation ceremony, I was hurt,” Dental Assistant Program graduate Franki Antonelli said Friday. She finished classes just days before the closure announcement came.
Weeks later, Town and Country decided to host the ceremony for free, giving hundreds of students like Antonelli an opportunity some never get – walking across the stage as a college graduate.
"This is an experience that is just -- there's no words, I'm very ecstatic right now,” Antonelli said in her cap and gown. She said the experience of walking at graduation in front of friends and family meant the world to her.
Some instructors who worked at Brightwood volunteered at the ceremony and got to celebrate with their students who didn't think this day would ever come.
Antonelli said she’s already started the application process at several dental offices.
Other Brightwood students who didn't earn enough credits to graduate transferred to other schools.
Brightwood College's parent company, Education Corp. of America, also closed schools operating as Virginia College, Brightwood College, Brightwood Career Institute, Ecotech Institute and Golf Academy of America in more than 70 locations in 21 states.
The Golf Academy of America in Carlsbad closed in December.