Joe Hillard has been attending classes at Center Place Restoration School since the first grade. Many of his classmates he has known for years, which is why graduating from the Independence private Christian school sends mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness.

Joe Hillard has been attending classes at Center Place Restoration School since the first grade. Many of his classmates he has known for years, which is why graduating from the Independence private Christian school sends mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness.

“I think I am most nervous about the next step after this. This has been a good environment, and we are all so close because our class is pretty small,” said Hillard, who plans to attend MCC-Blue River to enter the police training program. “Becoming a police officer is something that really interests me. I think it will be a great job, and I will have the opportunity to protect people.”

Family and friends gathered Saturday to watch 24 students graduate from Center Place Restoration School. Commencement exercises were held at the school building in Independence. In addition to the invocation by Carl Martens, the Center Place Restoration Concert Choir performed “Bound for Greater Things.”

“It is the success of the students that makes graduation so special,” Center Place principal Richard Neill said. “This class was in kindergarten my first year, so many of them I have seen come all the way through. That makes this graduation a little more special.”

The 2011 valedictorians are Rebekah Haller, Tuy Truc Thi Ho, Zachery Levengood, Alisha Regier, Ammon Sindt and Jacob Smith. Ho, who goes by MiMi at the school, said becoming a valedictorian is “very special.”

“It was a big surprise for me to be one of the valedictorians,” she said. “It’s big for me because when I came here (three years ago) I had to learn a new language and fit into a different culture. But the school opened their arms, and I made many friends I will miss.”

Levengood said he thinks it is “cool” to be one of the class of 2011’s valedictorians. He said he feels like his hard work the last four years has paid off. He plans to attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City to major in mechanical engineering.

“This was one of my goals as a freshman,” he said. “I have always been good at school, and I thought this was something I could do that would not be too difficult for me. I think what made this such a good school is the close relationships that you form. I have made some really good friends and because it is a small school, we are all very close.”

Graduate Cassidy Fletcher said he has enjoyed being at Center Place Restoration because of the “Christian” atmosphere that is in every classroom. He plans to attend the North American Racing Academy in Lexington, Ky., to become a horse racing jockey.

“I have grown up around horses, and my dad was a jockey too. It is a really good program, and a lot of good jockeys have come out of there,” he said. “I will miss my friends, of course, but racing is in my blood, so I am excited.”