Mature students from around Cape Breton took the stage today to collect their high school graduation diplomas.

One graduate in Sydney Mines is particularly proud of her accomplishments.

Joy McNeil of Alder Point is 40 years old. She dropped out of school many years ago.

"My brother was 19 and he passed away and I was only 14 and it kind of changed things. I went down the wrong road, rebelling, not listening to my parents, kind of gave up, didn't care anymore and I just never finished. That was one of my biggest regrets and I was always ashamed," McNeil said.

The married mother of two teenagers, ages 13 and 14, said she felt embarrassed for not graduating high school.

"I am always telling them how important school is and 'You have to make good grades.' How could I tell them that when I didn't graduate myself? They didn't know that for a long time and I wasn't even sure I was going to tell them. Then I decided it was time for me to do something," she said.

McNeil said the hardest part of returning to school was getting up the courage to register.

McNeil said she worked hard over the last two years, even studying from the bleachers or in the hockey rink while her kids played sports.

McNeil said by returning to the classroom, she feels she has become a better role model for her children.

"l wanted to show them a good example, show them it's never too late and determination — you can do anything you want," she said.

Both of her children, Alisha and Glenn McNeil, said they’re very proud of their mother’s hard work.

"I think it’s very important to her, accomplishing something very big and we are all proud of her for going back to school," said Glenn.

McNeil was chosen as valedictorian for her graduating class.

Now she’s making plans to take her education even further. Next year she’ll go to college and specialize in early childhood education.