ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — For many students in the area, Wednesday was the last day of school, bringing graduation ceremonies for many seniors.

But one school within the Rochester City School District had a very exciting element to its ceremony.

At the Rochester International Academy, all 30 graduating seniors are immigrants. Most of them came to the U.S. within the last few years, searching for new hope, a new education, and new dreams.

High school graduation is the symbol of a new start, finishing one chapter and turning the page to the next. However, for RIA’s seniors, it means so much more.

The Rochester International Academy is designed for newly arrived English learners. Some of them are here for a fresh start, and others had to flee their home country for various extenuating circumstances.

Suweido Ali came to the U.S. in 2020 from Somalia, and said she never expected to be continuing her education. But thanks to this new start, Ali is heading to Monroe Community College next year.

“I didn’t think I was going to be here, in America — and I’m here now today,” Ali said. “Girls my age don’t finish school, because the war is going on in my country. But I got here, so I feel like I can do it. I’m trying to work in the United Nations to try and help refugees.”

Mahfoodh Shiaopi is on his way to college next year, too. He said he didn’t speak a word of English when he arrived from Yemen, but his dreams are now attainable thanks to the support of his teachers and school staff.

“One of the students, I heard him say ‘I feel like it’s a warm house’ and it really is,” Shiaopi said. “This school is like a warm house.”

Benazir Reza said she feels the same way. She arrived in Rochester in November last year after fleeing Afghanistan once it fell to Taliban control — something that Reza said would have would have prevented her from continuing her education had she stayed.

On graduation day, Reza said she thought about those she had to leave behind and is grateful for the opportunity to get her diploma.

“I’m so sorry for my friends back in Afghanistan, that they cannot continue their education and they cannot experience such a memorable day,” Reza said.

Reza will be going to MCC next fall to pursue a degree in business management. She said she wants to start her own business that will work directly to help girls in Afghanistan.

Though these students are moving on to the next chapter, they said they’ll come back to help the communities who have made them who they are, both here in Rochester and overseas.