Year after year, McDuffie County Sheriff's Deputy Barry Whitfield ends the CHAMPS culmination ceremony the same way.
"I always end with the same thought, and it never changes," Deputy Whitfield said at the Dearing Elementary School culmination ceremony last Friday. "So listen as I tell you now -- together, we can change the world, one kid at a time, beginning right here in McDuffie County."
But the change is taking place with more than one child. In fact, 73 students completed the CHAMPS program at Dearing Elementary and marched in Friday's ceremony. An equal number of parents and grandparents attended the ceremony, which was held in the school's cafetorium.
"I don't think we've ever had so many parents attend before," Principal Laura Hughes said. "It's such a rainy, yucky day and you all braved the elements to come out. It shows you know how important this is."
Each of the graduates received a diploma and walked across the stage to shake hands with dignitaries and officials, which included: Dr. Hughes, Assistant Principal Suzanne Arrington, fifth-grade teacher Jenifer Yarbrough, Columbia County Sheriff's Lt. Butch Askew, Georgia State Patrol Trooper First Class Tommy Crafton, Juvenile Justice's Elmer Walker, State Probation Chief Peggy Elliott, Thomson City Councilman Rev. John Smalley and Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division Ranger Leroy Ficklin.
The Rev. Smalley, who served as the keynote speaker, explained that everyone has one thing they do well, and that's their talent. To develop their talent, the Rev. Smalley told the students they need to be obedient.
"You'll be in a whole lot less trouble in your lifetime if you simply obey," he said. "Obey your parents, obey your teachers, obey authorities, obey people older than you."
The second way students can develop their talent is by getting an education, the Rev. Smalley said, adding that it is the student's responsibility to study.
"Everybody cannot be an 'A' student, but you can be a good 'B' student or a good 'C' student," he said.
The city councilman also encouraged the students to treat other people the way they want to be treated. He discouraged them from misusing sex, partaking of alcohol and drugs and from making the pursuit of money a priority.
"The next mayor of Thomson might be sitting here," he said, waving his hands over where the students were seated. "Or the next city councilman, the next principal, doctor or pastor. ... It's not impossible if you develop your talents to the best of your ability."
Essay winners Elizabeth Gay, Raley Askew and Guadalupe Morales were recognized and read their essays aloud. The DES chorus performed a song at the end of the ceremony.
Sponsored by the Georgia Sheriff's Association, Inc., the semester-long Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety program teaches on many issues such as alcohol awareness, ATV safety, bullying, street drugs, gangs, being home alone and child abduction safety, Internet safety, peer pressure, stress and tobacco prevention. The program is taught to students in the fifth grade.
"We've got to target this age group if we want to change things 20 years from now," McDuffie County Sheriff's Major Ronnie Williamson said. "I think this program is vital for our future."
To be eligible for graduation, students must complete a CHAMPS planner and workbook, have good attendance, write a report, remain drug-free and demonstrate good behavior during class. Students also designed posters or wrote essays.
After graduation, members of the sheriff's department played games with the students.