Emily Pennington ready for graduation and next chapter

Emily Pennington.jpg
Posted at 10:53 PM, May 25, 2023

It was the final day of classes for many high school seniors in Billings School District 2.

And for one Billings West High School student, it was an especially meaningful milestone.

Emily Penington is a special needs student who almost didn't get to have a senior year due the district's age-out policy.

But last year, the community rallied behind her and fought to change the policy.

Now Pennington's dreams of graduating are finally coming true.

Emily spent her last day at West High School on Thursday morning.

And in the afternoon, she headed over to Arrowhead Elementary for a graduation walkthrough.

She and her classmates returned to the place where it all started.

"I'm so glad to be back to my childhood," Emily said.

Pennington attended Arrowhead before going to Will James and Ben Steele middle schools, and then to West.

"It's been really fun and I get to cheer for varsity cheerleading," she said about her final year of high school.

"She got to be a varsity cheerleader, which was like a dream come true for her," said Jana Pennington, Emily's mom. "To be able to cheer her classmates on was super exciting. She is a total sports fan."

"I like the Utah Jazz, but I love Golden State," Emily said.

Emily almost did not get to have her senior year because of a policy that forbid students older than 19 graduate.

But after outcry from the public, the school board voted to change its policy, allowing students to graduate at 20.

"It's hard not to get choked up when you think about the community because really without their support of the community and the businesses, I don't know if she would have had her senior year," Jana said.

Jana and James Pennington say the battle was worth it and described Emily's senior year as phenomenal.

"She really needed that extra year to explore some new parts of Emily and get a little bit more of a definite direction of what she wanted out of life," said Emily's dad, James.

She made a table for her mom and a chair for her dad in her build tech class.

And in her vocational tech class, she learned about child care.

"I was in St. John's to help them help the kids to learn," Emily said.

Emily has been volunteering at the St John's daycare center, something she'll continue after graduation.

"I love kids," Emily said.

And she also loves animals.

"Emily is just the beneficiary of it, to see a community step up on behalf of people who can't stand up for themselves so much," said James.

"And now she's ready to move on to the next chapter of her life," Jana said.