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Ten inmates from the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center made history Wednesday as the first graduates of Washington University’s Prison Education Project.

The proud graduates were decked out in the university’s green and black graduation regalia and participated in a small ceremony in a visitation room in the state prison, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The event was attended by members of the graduates’ families.

“We’ve created this liberal arts environment in the middle of a prison,” Robert Henke, professor and director of the program, told the Post-Dispatch.

“You’re the professor and they’re not criminals, they’re not inmates, they’re college students.”

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Students of the Prison Education Project earned their associate degree by completing 60 credit hours of curriculum taught by Washington University in St. Louis. They each took a course load of two to four classes each semester, which were offered for free through the funded program. The Prison Education Project is funded primarily by Washington University and is one of eleven participating programs of the national Bard Prison Initiative.

The program accepts only 10 students each year, though the Post-Dispatch states nearly 60 inmates apply for the chance to further their education and forge a new path.

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One of the graduates, Kareem Martin, told the news outlet that graduating with his associate degree has made him feel more like a contributing member of society.

“It awakened something in me that needed to be awakened,” he declared.

Congratulations to the new graduates.