Last week, several students at Thomson High School not only ended their year, but officially ended a chapter in their lives and began a new one. The December graduation exercises for the Class of 2008 were held Thursday, Dec. 18, in the high school auditorium.
"Thomson High School is rich in tradition, but nothing is more meaningful than commencement," Principal Rudy Falana said in his welcoming speech, before challenging the graduate candidates "to shake the world."
The December ceremony is for students who completed the state graduation requirements between May and December, and who have not participated previously in a ceremony. Fourteen students graduated in Thursday's ceremony in front of approximately 120 parents, friends, teachers, school board members and school system staff.
"I did not realize that in McDuffie County, we have 13,000 adults who did not receive a high school diploma. That is sad. But the happy statistic is that today, we have 14 who are not going to add to that statistic," keynote speaker, Eddie Lee Ivery, said.
As an alumnus of the Thomson High School Class of 1975, Mr. Ivery said he was honored to be the speaker for the ceremony. He told his own story of being placed in the special education classes as a student at THS, which caused him anger, shame and embarrassment.
"I had to reach deep down into my soul, body and mind and grab the three D's of determination, desire and discipline," he said. "And when I did, I not only was able to be pulled out of special ed class, but made it to being a member of the Beta Club."
His success continued after high school into college as a football player for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and on into the National Football League as a top draft pick to be a running back for the Green Bay Packers. When he became addicted to cocaine and lost everything he had, Mr. Ivery told the graduates he had to pull out those same three D's again.
"You've got to remember what got you here this far, because you are going to have to use it again when you get out into that world," he said.
His message was nothing new to the graduates, whom THS counselor Pat Farner described as "a very eclectic group," consisting of some who had finished high school several years ago, but had just recently passed the graduation test, some who just finished summer school and others who had just been in school this past semester.
"They are just a unique combination of kids," Ms. Farner said. "Of course, they all had their own stories, but perseverance is their number one thing. Probably most of those kids up there probably seriously thought about quitting at least once. But the fact they hung with it and got through the difficult times, we just think that's wonderful."
After the ceremony, the graduates echoed those sentiments. Jadavious Burnett said "no matter what your situation is, you can still get it done." Now that he's graduated, Jadavious will pursue a criminal justice degree at Middle Georgia College.
"I thank God for letting me make it," Steve Tate said, adding that he is hoping to go into the U.S. Army.
And that was the message Superintendent Mark Petersen delivered to the graduates. In what has become a tradition, Dr. Petersen read the Dr. Seuss book, Oh the Places You'll Go!, after the presentation of diplomas and tassel ceremony.
"It's good to be able to see people have the chance to finish what they started," Assistant Principal Mike Smallwood said during the reception in the school cafeteria after the commencement.
The December 2008 graduates are: Jadavious Tyquanious Burnett, Angelica Brianca Duggan, Denetrig Shantelle Gross, Sharkesia Lameka Hill, LaKyia Kyamaneika Howard, Sacola Porshay Huff, Shelena Shenyce Ivey, Arsenio Lamar Lewis, Allen Michael Peters, Brittney Marie Reeves, Ryan Hunter Rogers, Stanquan Demarcus Rogers, Sherry Scott, Steveance Santwain Tate.