HACKENSACK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – A special ceremony was held for Friday for a very special student in New Jersey who can’t attend his high school graduation.
Hipolito Garcia will actually be serving his country while his classmates are accepting their diplomas, so school staff in Hackensack intervened to give him the honor he earned.
For Garcia, the path to high school graduation wasn’t always an easy one.
He and his family immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic back in 2017. Without knowing any of English, he moved in with his grandparents and transferred to Hackensack High School.
“What are some of the struggles that came with the language barrier?” CBS2’s Nina Kapur asked.
“The accents of different people because, some of them, I couldn’t understand,” Garcia said.
Not only did Garcia pick up the language fluently within a year and a half, but he also worked to attain a 3.9 GPA.
“That means that I grew up… I’m an adult now.”
Looking forward to that future as an adult, he signed up for the U.S. Marine Corps. That commitment unfortunately came with the news that Garcia would be leaving for training a day before graduation.
“We felt pretty bad considering what a shining star he was for us that he couldn’t participate in the ceremony and have his family watch,” Principal Jim Montesano said.
So on Friday, he got his own ceremony – as the rest of the school rehearsed, Garcia walked.
“It’s important that every student feels special, so if we can change our schedules around a little bit to make him feel more special, it’s well worth it,” the principal said.
Even though Garcia has come so far in such a short time, he said when it comes to achieving his American dream, he’s only just getting started.
“I think I did, I did like 50 percent of it, because I’m not done yet with my studies,” the graduate said.
When it comes to his grandparents, who still only speak Spanish, “proud” doesn’t even begin to describe their reaction.
“They have faith in Hipolito because he’s very strong and they know his character and they have faith in what he’s going to do,” Alcala and Santiago Paulino said through a translator.
Garcia said with a diploma under his belt, he’s looking forward to serving the country that became his home.
On Monday, Garcia heads down to Paris Island, South Carolina to begin his military training.