Several Columbia County students got an early Christmas present Thursday – their high school diploma at the county Board of Education’s first winter graduation.
The ceremony, held at the Columbia County Alternative School, was for fifth-year seniors who earned enough credits to graduate.
Most of the graduates earned their diplomas from their respective high schools through the Save Our Seniors (SOS) program, while a few others earned the extra required credits for graduation through credit recovery and blended learning, including online classes, said Dr. Ja’Net Bishop, the principal of the alternative school.
Seventeen students earned enough credits to graduate and 11 were presented diplomas at the ceremony.
Before the ceremony, La’Drea Coard, 19, said she was nervous, but ready to get what she’d worked so hard for.
“I did all this work, I want it now,” she said anxiously after taking some photos with her friends.
Coard said she got distracted by drugs and truancy during high school. But she got her act together and worked hard to earn her diploma
“It felt great,” said the new Lakeside High grad.
The winter graduation is likely the first of many, Superintendent Dr. Sandra Carraway said.
Allowing the students to graduate in the winter instead of waiting until spring allows them to get their diploma and move on to the next chapter of their lives. For Coard, that’s cosmetology school. For Harlem High graduate Jeffrey Ray, the next step is the Air Force.
“It’s not just a delay, but giving them a jump start,” Carraway said, adding that those who could graduate at the end of the first semester often don’t get to enjoy the ceremony and celebration of a formal graduation.
“They are missing out on a major accomplishment in life and this is a way to help them feel accomplishment, for family to celebrate and them to be recognized,” Carraway said.
School system officials including keynote speaker board chair Regina Buccafusco told the graduates to keep up the hard work it took for them to finish high school.
“Once you get that diploma, it’s not over,” Associate Superintendent Dr. Jeff Carney said. “It’s just the beginning.
“We don’t want you to stop today. We want you to keep going.”