They endured 10 weeks of pre-dawn wake up calls, plenty of push ups and enough stress to make some question whether they'd chosen the right career. Now they are officers of the law.
Nearly three dozen men and women from across Mississippi graduated Friday from the Southern Regional Public Safety Institute. They received their diplomas and a warm welcome into the close knit family of law enforcement.
Harrison County Sheriff George Payne praised the new recruits for completing the course.
"You're joining a family," Sheriff Payne said. "People that care about each other that want to help you be the best."
The law enforcement "family" welcomed 41 police academy graduates, as hundreds of friends and loved ones filled the Orange Grove Community Center
The president of the University of Southern Mississippi told the graduates they've chosen an important profession.
"You have entered into one of the most honored professions. But I would say, as you probably know, it's probably one of the least overtly appreciated. And we can't say enough to you how much we do appreciate what you do," Dr. Horace Fleming said.
Donald Thomas looks forward to being a role model. He says wearing the badge is a special calling.
"You know, there's two things. You've got jobs and you've got professionals. So, I consider myself a professional now. And that's how I want people to look at me, as a professional in what I do."
The graduates understand they're entering a career known for long hours, low pay and job burnout. But on this special day, the academy class is optimistic.
Rita McNair knew she wanted to be a police officer when she graduated high school.
"I'm a people person. A keeper of the peace. I like to be out in my community and serve my public," said the Mendenhall police officer.
Keeping the peace often puts police officers in harm's way. It can be a dangerous job. But the new officers are well aware of that.
The graduate who finished tops in the class says it all gets back to one word: dedication.
"You've got to love the community. You've got to love the people that you're serving. You've got to have a heart to serve the public and go out there and do the best you can do," said Jackson County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Stout.