BARTOW, Fla. (FOX 13) - Pomp and Circumstance played. Friends and loved ones craned their heads to see the processional enter the auditorium of Bartow High School. They watched as one single graduate walked down the aisle.
Yes, just one member of the Class of 2019, all decked out in a traditional cap and gown, showed up to walk, because the ceremony was organized for him alone.
"I know it's not often that students get treatment like this," Elijah Eford told FOX 13. "I am grateful for it. I really appreciate it."
Bartow High held the event for Elijah because he is going into the U.S. Army the day before the rest of his class walks next week.
"I believe it would be a travesty not getting his diploma and having some type of ceremony in his honor," said Bartow principal Emilean Clemons.
So the school went far beyond the call of duty, because Elijah is responding to his.
His family showed up to soak in the moment. So did members of his church, along with students from Summerlin Academy, a public military school where Elijah attended eighth grade.
It was a long and rocky haul for Elijah. In his early high school years, academics was not his thing. He struggled.
"Many times I stayed up late helping him to get his work done, doing research and helping him with projects," his mom, Frederica Bradwell, said.
She laid it on the line to him.
"Failure is not an option," she stated bluntly.
Elijah did a complete turn-around halfway through his high school career.
Just by chance, he ran into a helicopter pilot, and was so impressed, he realized it was time to buckle down and get serious.
"Immediately, I got on my grind, and I did the things necessary to get where I am now," he said.
So on Thursday, a week before his classmates receive their diplomas, Elijah got his.
"And now we proclaim you a class of 2019 graduate," his principal announced, as the audience broke into applause.