This year’s final group of high school seniors from Columbia County received their diplomas Friday at the summer school graduation ceremony.
While on a smaller scale than the traditional May commencement exercises, the ceremony in Lakeside High School’s gymnasium had the usual trappings as 32 students representing each of the county’s five public high schools walked across the stage.
About the only differences between this ceremony and the May graduations were that there was no valedictorian, and those shouting from the stands were much closer to the action.
“It doesn’t matter when they earn their diploma,” said summer school principal Craig Baker. “It’s that they earn it.
“It’s a great time in their lives and it deserves the appropriate celebration no matter when it happens.”
Reva Gopal, mother of graduate Pooja Gopal, appreciated the ceremony, which the county has been holding since 2000.
“I think that it’s cool,” Gopal said. “That way the kids get what they are reaching for.”
Sixteen graduating summer school students chose not to participate.
For as many students who walked, though, there were just as many stories about why they were there.
Evans High School’s Matt Barnish said he had too much fun the first two years of high school, and in the end was short on credits. For him, the ceremony represented redemption.
“Some people take a second chance and throw it out the window,” said Barnish, who wants to further his education and pursue a job in electrical engineering. “Us here, getting a second chance to graduate and not having to wait a whole other year, is very important. It shows that people actually really do try and open their eyes in school and see how important it is.”
Lakeside’s Virginia Cintron didn’t finish an online physical science class on time.
She said she was sad as she watched her friends graduate in May.
“I was bummed, but I still went to graduation,” Cintron said before the ceremony. “Today I am so excited. There are four or five (students) from Lakeside, so at least I’m not the only one.”
After a speech by Columbia County School Board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco, students received their diplomas, turned their tassels and threw their hats in the air in celebration.
“Getting to wear the cap and gown has been amazing,” said Harlem’s Jason Blitchington after the ceremony. “This has been so wonderful that I get to do this today.”