TORTOLA — Challenged by acting President Judith Vanterpool to “keep your eyes on the future,” the graduates of the H. Lavity Soutt Community College’s 26th graduating class received their diplomas Thursday before family, friends, well wishers and government officials.

In a break from tradition, the ceremony was held at the Multipurpose Sports Complex in Road Town, the first time in the school’s history that its graduation ceremony was not held on the Paraquita Bay campus.

Of the 97 graduates, 85 were from the Paraquita Bay campus and 12 from the Virgin Gorda campus.

Education Minister Natalio Wheatley, who was a HLSCC lecturer until being elected in February, taught many of the graduates. Quoting from reggae artist Buju Banton, Wheatley told his former students It’s not an easy road.

“Many see the now and the glitter and thinks it’s a bed of roses, but who feels it knows,” Wheatley said. “Graduates, only you know what it has taken you to get to this point. Only you can attest to the true meaning of this event at this time and place.”

During the ceremony, Wheatley announced that $2 million has been included in the territory’s budget for the institution to further its programs and its mission. He also announced that 20 scholarships are being made available to the students who meet requisite criteria. He said more information will be available from his ministry.

Accounting student Daniella Mourillon, 19, who was the 2017 salutatorian of Elmore Stoutt High School, received the President’s Award for the student with the highest grade point average and the Corporate Award. Mourillon said she had a challenging start to her collegiate journey, getting work done without lights after Hurricane Irma.

“One thing I can give to the college, they adjusted their norms and expectations to suit the circumstances to that made the process easier for us,” she noted. “It had its ups and downs, not really smooth sailing, but smooth enough.”

Mourillon’s advice to her fellow graduates and those following is to trust in God.

“I’m a very religious person, so attending the college, you’d have a lot of ups and downs, as college in itself is a difficult journey, a difficult course,” she pointed out. “How I got through college was trusting in God, asking him to guide me; asked for his help and he did exactly that as you can see.”

Recalling the adjustments they made following hurricanes Irma and Maria, student respondent Briana Turnbull said the only word to describe her class, is perseverance. On behalf of her class, she thanked the faculty and staff who were understanding and made adjustments after the hurricanes.

With no air conditioning, she recalled the hot classrooms, using their laps as desks and being bitten by mosquitos and studying with a flashlight in one hand and a pen in the other.

“If you conquered college after Irma, you can face anything,” she said. “So when life beats you up and spits you back out, remember that word — perseverance.”