PEABODY — Eighteen graduates received their high school diplomas on Friday from the Simon Youth Peabody Learning Academy at the Northshore Mall, marking the alternative school’s ninth graduation ceremony.

The academy provides a nontraditional learning environment for kids who struggle at Peabody’s regular high school. So far, 152 students have graduated from the school, including this year’s class of seniors.

“All students have their own stories and experiences to get here. The fact that they’ve been able to persevere and make it to this day is pretty special,” said Seith Bedard, the school’s director.

Edward Sapienza, former principal of Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, was the guest speaker at Friday’s graduation. Sapienza was instrumental in helping to launch the alternative school in 1988.

“He is kind of like one of our founding fathers who helped to establish this program at the mall to help these kids,” said Bedard.

Other speakers included J. Michael Durnil, president and CEO of the Simon Youth Foundation; Mayor Ted Bettencourt; Peabody School Superintendent Cara Murtagh; and state Rep. Tom Walsh.

Every year, Peabody Learning Academy and Northshore Mall honor two students who earned the Simon Youth Foundation Scholarship award, one for $8,000 and one for $32,000. This year, Kaitlin Flannagan won the $32,000 scholarship, and Aryell Lula won the $8,000 award.

Every graduate gets a chance to speak during the graduation ceremony.

“This is a really unique event,” Bedard said. “It is very special and very personalized.”

It is also, he said, “by far the best day of the year.”

By Melanie Tymn, Correspondent