More than 240 fifth-graders at R.L. Norris Elementary School in Thomson graduated from the Georgia Sheriff's Association C.H.A.M.P.S. program last Wednesday.
The special ceremony, which drew parents, grandparents and other guests, is an annual event hosted by Deputy Barry Whitfield of the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department. Deputy Whitfield serves as instructor of the program within the McDuffie County School System.
Clad in their C.H.A.M.P.S. T-shirts, students listened as Mr. Whitfield provided a brief history of the program that instills a variety of good values into students, as well as explaining about the use of drugs and alcohol.
He also explained the criteria that students must meet in order to graduate from the program, which has been taught for several years in local schools.
The guest speaker for the event was Thomson Police Chief Joseph D. Nelson, who explained, "Everything is about a choice."
The city's top cop said he was proud and honored to be the guest speaker at this year's C.H.A.M.P.S. graduation.
"I think this is a wonderful occasion," Chief Nelson said, noting that he wanted to send a message to young people living in Thomson.
"You are all destined for greatness," Chief Nelson said. "You can achieve the impossible. You need to be well-rounded and have the desire to achieve."
Chief Nelson emphasized the importance of staying in school and getting a good education.
"You need to take every opportunity possible to broaden your education," Chief Nelson said. "I hope you have learned something about the C.H.A.M.P.S. program, because there will be many obstacles that will come your way. You have to learn to overcome them."
If not, then jails, prisons or worse could easily become part of the future, he pointed out.
"We don't want to see any of you become statistics," Chief Nelson said. "I don't want to see any of you turn to drugs, alcohol or drunk driving."
The police chief informed students that there are 2.6 million people incarcerated in jails across the country today.
"Don't stray away from your destiny," Chief Nelson cautioned.
He advised students not to let friends or others hinder their destiny, either.
"Take a stance," Chief Nelson said, noting that such things as drugs and gang violence "is a road that leads to nowhere."
Remember, he urged, "You can be whatever you want to be. You just have to apply yourself and want it."
Chief Nelson said there are times that we fall down, "but we can get back up."
He also asked students to always remember the C.H.A.M.P.S. pledge.
"I'm expecting you to do the right thing -- always," Chief Nelson said in closing.