The Academy of Richmond County opened its doors in 1785, and was visited by President George Washington six years later. Thousands of young men and women have come and gone through its doors, and ultimately graduated from the oldest learning institute in Georgia – each with a story to tell.
On May 29, 18-year-old Randy Hawes will walk across the graduation stage and shake hands with administrators and trustees as he receives his diploma case, probably without much fanfare or air horns.
Many do not know about Randy or his story, and that’s too bad.
RANDY WAS born in San Antonio to Belinda Jernigan, a single mother of two boys. Being born premature, he had problems with fine motor skills, and received two-plus years of occupational therapy. Somewhere around this point is where 99 percent of similar stories splinter off and describe how a single parent went to a government building, signed up for benefits and has been receiving benefits ever since, while the children failed to learn to read close to grade level, and so on and so forth.
Not this story.
Randy took up baseball to help with his physical delays. Not taking too well to baseball, he began playing basketball to strengthen fine motor skills, and entered football at age 6. He wanted to give it up, but Mom suggested he stay with it a bit longer and not quit. When he hit high school, he played football for four years and wrestled for three
“Randy is extremely dedicated to his sport and works hard at everything he does,” said ARC’s head wrestling coach and assistant football coach, Michael Buckshaw.
When Randy was in the third grade, his mother married Rob Jernigan, and for the next eight years the family moved from San Antonio to San Angelo, Texas, back to San Antonio, to North Carolina and one or two additional moves related to military life. While in ninth grade, Randy wanted to get to know his biological father, so he went to spend the year with him, but it didn’t work out.
Somewhere around here is when 99 percent of similar stories splinter off and describe how a child and his family began using certain life events as a crutch and an excuse for poor behavior, being a disciplinary problem in school and so on and so forth.
Not this story.
In addition to having two “very influential older brothers” and a caring mother who “never put limits on Randy,” Hawes has a stepdad who, in Randy’s words, is “how a father should be to their children” and “has been like a father to this day.” The family arrived in Augusta in November 2011, and Randy registered in school.
Welcome to Georgia and its Georgia High School Graduation Test! He passed all five components on his first try, and based upon my math, his unofficial high school average is 88.6.
DID I MENTION that, as a child, Randy was diagnosed with a learning disability? He has dyslexia. His mother says that they “found strengths to overcome weaknesses.”
ARC’s front office secretary, Diana Register, boasted, “Randy is so polite, chivalrous and well-mannered. I’ve watched him grow into a focused, determined young man that overcomes the obstacles to achieve his goals in life. I’m very proud of him.”
Randy asks faculty members, including me, to look over assignments before submitting them to their respective teachers. He could have rushed through with a pencil, turned in something and said, “I turned it in.” But no – he takes the extra time and effort to submit the best possible product. For those unfamiliar with this practice, it’s a strong work ethic, discipline and not giving up – when, in today’s self-absorbed, narcissistic, easy-way-out culture, such things are frowned upon.
I may have omitted that last month Randy signed a letter of intent to attend St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, N.C., on academic and wrestling scholarships. Close to 30 teammates, faculty members, administrators and people from church gathered in ARC’s Media Center to witness the signing. Although it escaped media coverage, those present understood and appreciated the event’s significance.
And, oh by the way, Randy is the first student from ARC to receive a wrestling scholarship, and while his academic record was rewarded, St. Andrews was not made aware of his disability.
“Randy is a very hardworking student athlete who takes pride in not (just) his training, but also his academic work. He is an example of a true student athlete,” ARC coach and teacher Richard Bush said.
International Baccalaureate Dean Ken Johnson added, “From an administrative perspective, I can say that Randy is very much dedicated to his craft. He spends a lot of time preparing for his matches and has a calm aura when it’s his time to take the mat. He has calm confidence that I have seen turn into what looks like a kid running around on the playground. One can really tell that he loves the sport of wrestling and does not participate because he is good or because he is asked to.”
CAREER TECHNICAL Instruction Coordinator Candace Wilkerson praised him, too: “Randy has always displayed positive behavior with self-motivation and determination to learn all the content in engineering. He participated in the High School High Tech program and the CTI program and attended most of the events, learning leadership skills, decision-making skills, and communication skills. He is very respectful and always willing to help others.”
Randy’s mother would like for people to know about students with disabilities: “They are not incapable of reaching their goals.”
When asked how he manages and deals with his obstacles, Randy simply said that, “Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can use it as a crutch.”
Amen, and Godspeed!
(The writer is a teacher at the Academy of Richmond County.)