The Class of 2008 grew by 21 students Monday.
Some of these students finished their required course work just hours before the ceremony so they could walk across the auditorium stage at Evans High School to receive their diplomas or high school certificates.
A mood of celebration, marked by cheers and applause from friends and family members in the audience, replaced any summer school graduate's last-minute anxieties about completing academic requirements on time.
Students from all four of Columbia County's public high schools participated in the ceremony.
"Just believe in your competence, and plan to be successful at something," Lauren Williams, the Columbia County school system associate superintendent of student learning, told the graduates.
She also gave them five recommendations: Strive to be excellent in all that you do, whether at work, at worship or at play; treat all people with respect; be proactive, not reactive; do the right thing; and never burn bridges.
Chris Segraves, the summer school principal, recognized the graduates for their potential and for their perseverance in earning their diplomas.
However, he also told them, "Just because you have finished high school doesn't mean that life is going to treat you kindly the rest of the way."
The graduates had many options to finish their required courses.
Some took regular summer school classes; some took online courses; and some took online credit recovery courses that let them retake only the semester of a class that they had failed.
Weston Williamson, a Lakeside High School graduate, said he finished two online courses the day of graduation.
He said he wanted to participate in the commencement exercises because of the tradition it represents.
Greenbrier High School graduate Brentley McCladdie agreed.
"I don't care what kind of stage it is, as long as I get to graduate," she said.
New Harlem High School graduate Brian Smith, wearing a Marines tie, said he plans to join the Marine Corps.
He took two senior literature courses in summer school.
"It was hard coming to summer school, but the class itself wasn't hard," he said.
Tia White, who should have graduated from Evans High in 2006, finished an online credit recovery biology course weeks ago.
"I wish they had credit recovery when I was a senior," she said.
White said earning her diploma was "long awaited, but very fulfilling; something I've wanted for long time. So to finally get it is amazing."
She said she felt proud when she walked across the stage.
"I knew my family was out there watching, and I knew they had been wanting it just as much as I did," she said.
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