The house was dark, barely awake, and smelled like sausage and eggs. Zadarian Thomas knew that the sound of grease crackling on the stove Monday morning meant a special occasion.
He woke up early, about 5:30 a.m., in his bed bordered by posters of Kobe Bryant, the Yankees and Texas Longhorns players.
A flashy polo shirt hung on the closet door, and he slipped on a pair of jeans and boat shoes before pulling the shirt over his head to complete the outfit he planned three weeks ago.
Richmond County schools went back into session Monday, with about 31,000 students filing into 58 schools.
It was a moment that Zadarian, 17, a Butler High School senior, had been waiting for all summer. This meant he was closer to graduating, to going off to college, to “starting my adult life.”
“You want these grits?” his aunt, Chandra Thomas, asked as he walked into the kitchen.
“I’ll just eat the eggs,” he said, taking only a few bites before kissing her goodbye.
Zadarian’s grandmother, Brenda, walked into the kitchen for a goodbye hug.
“You don’t have to sit on the porch and watch me,” he said, smiling.
Brenda Thomas did anyway. Her grandson was walking to the bus stop for his last first day of high school.
Zadarian walked in the dark to the bus stop, the same patch of sidewalk where he waited in elementary school and middle school. He left through the door of the same house he has lived in since his parents brought him to Augusta days after his birth in a Mississippi hospital.
The bus showed up, as it had a thousand times before, and Zadarian hopped on to see a smiling driver.
When he arrived at Butler, there was time to visit old friends after the long days of summer separation.
As the bell rang, he climbed up stairs and went under a doorway with a small orange sign: “You have a brain. Use it.”
His homeroom teacher, Tonya McGowan, was charged with reminding students of Butler’s rules and dress code.
“The Butler B’s,” the 17 students in McGowan’s Spanish III class were reminded, are “be on time, be prepared, be on task, be respectful and be successful.”
The rest of the day was long, Zadarian said. Students were still being registered and schedules completed, so teachers had little interaction with them.
Most of his classes were spent catching up with old friends and being reminded of the rules.
But a roomful of seniors has a sense of restlessness and energy to it.
“I just want to be done,” said Raeannah Wheeler, who wants to finish high school so she can begin college.
She wants to study criminal justice, saying that she became interested in courts watching the TV show Law & Order but that the goal became solidified after she saw too many friends go to jail.
Zadarian said he has a similar eagerness to leave high school behind.
It’s not that he has had a bad experience. He is popular and active and studies hard. He runs cross-country, plays baseball and sings in the school chorus. He ranks 15th in his class academically and is aiming to make it into the top 10.
Zadarian wants something more, however.
“I know I want to get out of Augusta,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody. I just don’t see anything here for me anymore.”
He hopes to go to college somewhere in Georgia and major in music vocal performance.
“It’s what I’ve decided I loved,” he said. “They say the more things you’re doing, and the more you’re involved in, the less chances you have to get in trouble.”
Zadarian expects his senior year to fly by, much as the first day of school did.
He has homecoming, senior week and the task of retaining the Mr. Butler title he holds. There are football games, where his bulldog, Cleo, will again be
the mascot and parade down the track for the cheering fans.
High school is exciting, but what’s ahead, Zadarian said, will be even better.