For the 32 graduates of Richmond Early College’s legacy class, May 19 was bittersweet. It was the day many of them had looked forward to for nearly five years, but as it finally arrived, so did a mix of big smiles and big tears.
Richmond Early College students and faculty exchanged favorite memories during the school’s inaugural graduation at the Cole Auditorium. As they reflected on all that happened over the past four or five years leading up to their much anticipated commencement day, it seemed that most were overwhelmed with emotion.
Principal Michael Chapman welcomed the graduates and their families alongside former principal Lawanda Walker, who lead the school for four years before retiring at the end of the last school year. As Chapman spoke to the group, he congratulated them for each of their accomplishments, but especially for the distinction of being the first group of students in Richmond County to graduate with both an associate’s degree, or two years of transferable college credit and a high school diploma.
“You’ve done something no other students in Richmond County have done before,” Chapman said. “You’re earned two degrees in a very short period of time. Today signifies that higher level of accomplishment.”
Scholarships were presented including awards from Golden Leaf Foundation and Cascades Tissue Group. Beta Club students and recipients of the Presidential Award for graduates were also recognized during the ceremony.
Class of 2012 Salutatorian Alicia Dunn and Valedictorian Stephanie Deese shared a few words of reflection with their classmates during their graduation speeches. Deese choked back tears as she looked out among the members of her class.
“We’re a family and we love our school. We made this school what it is,” Deese said. “While are excited to start a new journey, we’re sad to leave this place. So many thought we wouldn’t make it, but we proved that we could, and we did.”
George Norris, Superintendent of Schools, thanked all of the individuals who had the vision to bring Richmond County Schools and Richmond Community College together to form the Early College High School concept. He praised the members of the RCC Board of Trustees, Dale McInnis, members of the Richmond County Board of Education and former Superintendent Larry Weatherly for partnering to make the vision a reality.
“This is a great example of the wonderful results of two educational entities coming together, as the school system and community college did, to create the Early College High School,” Norris said. “Parents, your children have created great stories during their time at the Early College. I expect to continue to hear great stories as they leave us to pursue their futures.”
Kary Edmondson, the Early College High School liaison at Richmond Community College, called the names of the graduates and read special stories or comments about each of them as they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. Students exchanged hugs and handshakes with Edmonson, Chapman and Walker just before the turning of tassels. The students presented Walker, their former principal, with a framed portrait of the senior class.
For teachers, like Fred Adcock, who were with the students from day one, the ceremony was the culmination of all positives experiences the graduates at Richmond Early College were a part of, including when the school was named among the top performing high schools in the state.
“This is without a doubt a huge day for our school, but especially for these kids — our first class,” Adcock said. “I’m very happy for them and I wish them all the best.”
Jamilah Dawkins, a member of the Beta Club who earned her associate’s degree in science, plans to attend UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall. Dawkins shared with her peers and faculty members shortly after starting class at Richmond Early College that UNC was her dream school. She worked hard to make her dream a reality, as did the other graduates at the school, many of whom plan to continue their education at other colleges and universities.
“We proved that we could do this,” Dawkins said. “We’ve all been through some difficult times, but we’ve shown that when we set our mind to it, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”