It was a day of celebration for the senior class of the University of Texas at Tyler’s University Academy as they became the school’s first graduating class.

The UT Tyler-led charter school graduated 42 students from its Longview, Palestine and Tyler campuses during a commencement ceremony at the UT Tyler Herrington Patriot Center.

The school focuses on STEM and Project Based Learning and allows students to take college classes for free through UT Tyler while in high school

UT Tyler President Michael Tidwell gave the keynote address at the ceremony.

“I congratulate you all on your accomplishments,” he said. “You are indeed the best and brightest (students) in all of East Texas.”

The class of 2019 completed a total of 1,541 college credit hours, with 32 earning at least 36 credit hours.

University Academy was founded in 2012 and now enrolls more than 750 students at its three campuses.

Tidwell shared with the students the three things he wishes he had known when he was 18 years old: that his parents were much smarter than he thought they were; that education was one of the most important assets he would ever own; and that listening to others was far more important than being smart or having all the answers.

Longview campus valedictorian Joseph Perry shared memories he had made with classmates over the past seven years.

“I may not have great words of wisdom but what I do possess are words of great appreciation,” Perry said.

Perry said he was grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow and forge deep bonds with his classmates, while earning college credit.

“Where else would I have the opportunity to graduate from high school as a second semester sophomore, all paid for by the university?” he asked.