The Augusta Youth Development Campus celebrated triumphs Friday, but also dealt with death.
The facility graduated three students with GEDs and one with a plant production specialist certificate from Augusta Technical College. The same day, it learned of the death of one of its teachers in a car accident.
Bonita C. Wallace, 57, of Grovetown, was killed after she pulled her car out from a private drive near the campus on Mike Padgett Highway into the path of a northbound Ford pickup near Marvin Griffin Road.
Wallace was pronounced dead at 9:53 a.m., according to Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten.
Wallace had taught at the YDC since 2007 and was a teacher at Hephzibah High School before that, said Jim Shuler, the director of communications for the Department of Juvenile Justice, in an e-mail.
She had been an educator for 26 years.
“She touched the lives of many young people in the Augusta area and the Georgia Juvenile Justice system,” Shuler said.
At the campus, she taught language arts and ran the Mock Trial Team.
“The young men who were a part of the Mock Trial Team truly realized the faith and pride that Mrs. Wallace had for each of them,” Shuler said.
She was nominated for Teacher of the Year for the DJJ during that time for her “dedication to academic excellence and the extra special effort she always demonstrated as a professional educator.”
“She will be greatly missed,” he said.
The students and faculty were not aware of the loss during the commencement ceremony, where Dariese Roberts, 18, Kenneth Martin, 18, and one other student who did not want to be identified received their GEDs and Nicholas Hand, 19, received a college certificate. The teenagers were celebrated for their achievement while in custody of the facility.
“In spite of your situation, you are here,” said state Rep. Henry “Wayne” Howard, the keynote speaker at the commencement. “You are here because you can rise above your situation.”
The campus also celebrated the 16 students who completed programs or classes, including the Seven Challenges, which is a drug rehabilitation program.
In the small ceremony held on campus, Howard spoke about being a leader and not a follower. He said some of the young men might be faced with a situation where friends before they were incarcerated will try to lead them down the wrong path. He said they have to make the choice to not follow and to go out on their own.
“Getting caught up in the system is a vicious cycle,” he said.
He stressed the importance of education, saying most of the young men seated next to the small stage probably knew more about the judicial system than most lawyers, which got a chuckle from parents and guardians in attendance.
“Even if you are all talent, you need to be educated to make your own educated decisions,” he said.
For Martin, getting his GED was a green light.
“If I can do this, I can do anything,” said the aspiring graphic designer.
Martin is also a graduate of the Seven Challenges program. He said he is thankful for the education he was provided while in custody at the YDC.
“It helped a lot,” he said. “It was a very positive experience. We all have that certain teacher who pushes us so we aren’t sitting around doing nothing.”
Roberts said he has plans to become an occupational therapist.
“I want to help people,” he said.
Hand, who received his second certificate from Augusta Tech to go with his GED, was a member of Wallace’s Mock Trial Team. He said he wanted to get into wildlife management when he is released but was determined to be involved in everything he could while at the YDC.
“I wanted to take all the opportunities I could before I left,” he said.