Donned in Lakeside High School burgundy caps and gowns, La’Drea Coard and Jasmine Goldston were nervously taking photos and fidgeting before taking the stage to get their diplomas.
The girls were two of 11 Columbia County high school students who were presented with their high school diplomas at the county’s first winter graduation ceremony on Thursday at the Columbia County Alternative School.
“I did all this work. I want it now,” Coard said anxiously waiting back stage for the ceremony to begin.
Most of the graduates earned their diplomas from their respective high schools through the Save Our Seniors (SOS) program, while a few others earned the extra required credits for graduation through credit recovery and blended learning including online classes, said Dr. Ja’Net Bishop, principal of the alternative school.
Seventeen student earned enough credits to graduate and 11 were presented their diplomas at the ceremony.
Coard said drugs and truancy got her off track early in her high school career. But Coard got back on track and was excited to start cosmetology school.
“It felt great,” said Coard, after the ceremony celebrating with family and friends. “It’s a great feeling.”
Goldston, who had a throng of family and friends at the ceremony, said she just got distracted her freshman year and spent the rest of her high school years trying to catch up.
“I wasn’t focused,” Goldston said. “People think, ‘Oh, I can mess up now and then can get it together later.’ You really can’t. Once you mess up your freshman year, you mess up basically your four years. You make it hard on yourself.”
Goldston said she was going to drop out during her senior year, but stuck it out with encouragement from her graduation coach.
The winter graduation is the first, but likely the first of many, Superintendent Dr. Sandra Carraway said.
Allowing the students to graduate in the winter instead of waiting until the spring allows them to get their diploma and move on to the next chapter of their lives.
For Coard, that’s cosmetology school. For Harlem High graduate Jeffrey Ray, the next step is the Air Force.
“It’s not just a delay, but giving them a jump start,” Carraway said, adding that often times, those who could graduate at the end of the first semester, don’t get to enjoy the ceremony and celebration of a formal graduation.
“They are missing out on a major accomplishment in life and this is a way to help them feel accomplishment, for family to celebrate and them to be recognized,” Carraway said.
School system officials including keynote speaker board chair Regina Buccafusco congratulated the students to keep up the hard work it took for them to finish high school.
“Once you get that diploma, it’s not over,” Associate Superintendent Dr. Jeff Carney said. “It’s just the beginning.
“We don’t want you to stop today. We want you to keep going.”