Graduation day will mean much more than earning a diploma for 19-year-old Royal Stewart Jr., of Maringouin.

Stewart is the first grandchild on the maternal side of his family to graduate from high school, and on Friday he will be the first student in Iberville Parish to graduate from the Math, Science and Arts — North Virtual Academy.

Academy Director Dianna Outlaw will be handing Stewart his diploma. She and her staff were important to Stewart’s success and stability.

“Royal would come into my office with the biggest smile and tell me about every milestone he made, whether it was finishing a course or passing an end-of-the-year test,” Outlaw said.

For Stewart, graduating will be a life changer.

“It’s going to be the best day of my life knowing that I am educated,” Stewart said.

Though he grew up in an unstable home environment, shuffled among family members, he was determined to continue his education.

“He had a rough time growing up,” said Georgiana Smith, his aunt. “But I stayed on his back.”

Stewart is one of the most polite young men I’ve ever met.

When I joined the academy staff last August, Stewart never passed my office without smiling, saying “hello” or responding with a “thank you.”

“He’s a person who can work with anybody,” said his teacher, Callie Morales.

Though Stewart kept smiling, there was a battle going on inside. Outlaw grew concerned after she noticed Stewart falling behind in his coursework.

“He stopped coming,” she said. “He was not doing the work, and I couldn’t reach him.”

Though the academy allowed him to complete his credits via computer, he was tempted to get a job instead.

When Stewart returned to the academy campus, he said he realized he had made a hasty mistake. Without a high school diploma, employers were not interested in hiring him.

Armed with a real-world lesson, Stewart resumed his work with a renewed passion.

“I knew he could do it,” Outlaw said. “This year, he turned it on. He is on fire, and he is determined to graduate.”

Stewart is thankful. “I had a lot of help and support,” he said, citing his teachers, principal, stepmother, uncle and other family members who encouraged him.

“Earning your diploma says that you complete things,” Outlaw told him. In the work world, “if you are reliable, get to work on time and go above and beyond, anybody will hire you.”

Stewart plans to attend Baton Rouge Community College and Southern University, where he wants to study welding.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at chantewriter@hotmail.com.