Convicted murderer Michael Grendell's blue jeans barely showed beneath his maroon graduation gown as he stood Tuesday to give his high-school valedictory speech.
Like his fellow graduates, Grendell, 54, wore his standard-issue jeans and denim shirt to march through the ceremony at the Nevada State Prison on Tuesday.
For a day, however, he and the other 18 graduates were able to cover their prison garb with graduation gowns.
"What a beginning," said Grendell, who is serving a life sentence for murder. "What splendid hopes arise from this accomplishment.
"The gift of freedom must be earned, just as our diplomas had to be earned," he said.
In all, 25 inmates completed the prison program for a high school equivalency diploma. Six were not able to participate in the ceremony because they had either gone home or been sent to a work camp.
"We come together today as a group - not a group gathered to commit a crime, but to celebrate an accomplishment," said Robert Brozovich, one of the student speakers.
Ernie McKenzie, director of the adult education program, said education is a key component to reforming a criminal.
"There is a strong correlation between increasing one's education and reducing the odds of being a criminal," he said. "The more education a person receives, the greater chance they have of being successful."
Brozovich talked to his classmates of that feeling of success.
"We've tasted success and now we can hold our heads high," he said. "But only you and I know the struggles we went through to get our diplomas here at the Nevada State Prison."
Educated prisoners are less likely to return to prison once they are let out.
McKenzie said 60 percent of inmates who do not receive educational programs will return to prison while 85 percent who receive a high school diploma will never return.
More than 80 percent of Nevada inmates were originally high-school dropouts.
He said it is in the best interest of the public to support education within the prison system because 97 percent of all people sent to prison get out, and most are out within the first five years.
Over 90 percent of all inmates in Nevada are from Nevada and will return to their communities upon release.
Ellie Graham, one of the student speakers, said the education process taught them better how to function in society.
"We've learned that we cannot quit, run away or always get what we want," he said. "Education is the way."
McKenzie said not only is it safer to educate inmates, but it is also cheaper.
It costs an average of between $17,000 to $22,000 to incarcerate an inmate for a year and about $4,000 per year to educate a student in the Nevada school system.
However, it costs about $1,500 per year to educate an inmate.
Graham told his classmates not to be upset about the past or worry about the future.
"You have today and today only," he said. "The greatest thing today is graduation."
The Northern Nevada Correctional Center will hold graduation ceremonies today and the Warm Springs Correctional Center will hold them Thursday.