When the name and photo of Khalid Branch were displayed during Essex County College’s 2021 virtual commencement on June 4, it brought a flood of joyful tears from his mother, Kyisha Branch.

“Khalid worked so hard for this," Kyisha Branch said in an announcement from the college. "It’s such an inspirational moment."

At Montclair High School, where Khalid Branch played football, he was part of the district’s Community Based Instruction for special needs students. He earned his associate degree in physical education and is headed to Montclair State University.

“My goal is to become an elementary school gym teacher,” Khalid Branch said.

More from Graduation 2021 in Montclair

Khalid Branch interned at a local elementary school to further his goal of becoming a gym teacher, Montclair Public Schools transition teacher Leslie Wallace said.

“Khalid worked very hard to achieve his goal, which was to attend college,” Wallace said. “He was very focused on his goals."

Khalid Branch is the only student from the Montclair district’s Community Based Instruction program to earn an associate degree. He is currently employed at the YMCA of Montclair.

“Khalid has been a wonderful student, overcoming so much to get this far,” Essex County College disabilities services coordinator Maria Mercado said. “He has made me so proud."

Kyisha Branch said she wants her son's story to encourage other students “to push through any and all adversity.” She said she wants him to, "keep flying high and reaching for the stars. There are no limits to what you do. You have definitely beat the odds."