Not all Henry County graduates walked in May.
Students Working to Achieve Greatness, a program of McDonough nonprofit Connecting Henry under Executive Director Susan Crumbley, helps students earn their general education diplomas.
Its class of 2017 marched in caps and gowns to Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” June 29 at Heritage Park in McDonough.
Program Director Barbara Coleman told graduates’ friends and families what the ceremony meant to staff members.
“We are more than excited,” she said. “We are so happy to report that for the 2017 school year, we had 44 students earn a GED.”
Coleman said the program is open to students who find mainstream education untenable.
“All of these students you see here have actually dropped out of school for whatever reason and society called them ‘at-risk.’ We say yeah, they are at risk, but they are at-risk for greatness,” she said. “That’s why we call it the SWAG program.”
Acknowledging the students “probably faced the hardest thing that they had to do,” Coleman also saluted their persistence.
“We honor those students because they didn’t give up,” she said.
The door swung both ways, said graduate Alonzo Williams.
“They never gave up on me,” he said about program staff. “I wanted to give up. They never gave up.”
Staff members are key to the students’ success, Coleman said.
They include program coordinator and math instructor James Williams, intake coordinator Cheryl Walker, finance coordinator Janice Jacoby, driver Roosevelt Dozier, career advisor Gwendolyn Crawford and instructors Kara Thompson, Brenda Strickland and Taylor Welch.
Talia Rivera, a graduate, saluted them in her tearful remarks.
“These wonderful teachers have given me 110 percent of their help when I needed them the most,” she said. “They gave me their all, just so I can be here tonight and to move on to the next chapter of my life.”
Advice on graduates’ next steps came from Mike Johnson of Stockbridge nonprofit Family Support Circle.
“This is a stepping stone that opens a door for you to unleash your greatness on life itself,” he said.
Shana Thornton of Let’s Talk America radio, delivering the commencement address, agreed.
“It’s time to claim the future,” she said. “Take action today, because today feeds tomorrow.”
The class of 2017 is Yanelli Bendetti, Shamar Buntin-Williams, Daniel Burns, Paden Carter, James Collum, Onjolic Davis, Ross Davis, Ryan Digby, Cypress Fluellen, Quentin Ford, Jimmy Goodrum, Mackie “Trey” Harper, Amber Henry, Jacob Huff, Christopher Jackson, Dustyn Jenkins, Myels Johnson, Micah Lewis, Gavin Maples, Christina Mays, Deronda McRae, Na’Quan Nicholson, Matthew Ometz, Timothy Peters, Kayla Phillips, Steven Poe, Jordan Ramsey, Justin Ray, Talia Rivera, Anthony Roach-Palm, Brooke Roberts, Jabria Shade, LaShae Shelton, Coldon Smith, Amaryelle Taylor, Kahlil Thomas, Terren Thorp, Tyler Tolbert, Alexander Wardlow, Jamarius Washington, Getavious Watkins, Alonzo Williams, Racquel Williams and Jordan Young.
Emmanuel Hill and JaMayah Jolly earned high school diplomas.
Digby earned the program’s top academic excellence honor.
Honorable mentions went to Henry, Jackson, Ramsey and Wardlow.