Westover Comprehensive High Principal William Chunn encourages students to stay in school during the Commitment to Graduate event.
ALBANY -- The Dougherty County School System has improved its graduation rate from 54 percent in 2003 to 75.4 percent in 2009.
The school system has also significantly improved its number of student dropouts with 139 in 2008-09 after having 253 during the 2005-06 school year.
In 2009, Westover Comprehensive High School had the largest number of graduates in the school system with 302 graduates, but it also had the largest number of dropouts with 45 out of the four-year school's 1,465 students.
In an effort to combat student dropouts, Westover Graduation Coach Yolanda Skinner and other school administrators decided to have a program focused on keeping the school's youngest students in school.
The inaugural Commitment to Graduate program used several speakers in an attempt to motivate the students on Friday morning.
Guest speaker Antonio Leroy, executive director of Albany State University's Center for the African-American Male, spoke bluntly to the more than 340 ninth-graders assembled.
"You will make $1 million more in your life if you graduate from high school," Leroy said. "You decide if you are (going to) study at night or put on makeup. (The) decisions you make today will determine your destiny tomorrow.
"Real models do the right thing," he continued. "They aren't jokers. The like the image they see in the mirror. They do things the first time they're asked. You have no one to blame but the person you see in the mirror.
If you want something out of life, you (have to) do something about it
here and now."
Leroy also encouraged the students to seek real models instead of role models.
"I don't believe in role models," said Leroy, a 1993 Monroe High graduate who later was a star football player at Albany State and played arena football with the South Georgia Wildcats. "A real model is someone you see everyday. A real model will show you how to do something vs. a role model that tells you how to do something. So I like real models."
Leroy pointed out to the students that they can't use things out of their control as an excuse for not graduating high school.
"I came from a low-income home and single-family home, but I didn't let those things determine my life," he said.
After Leroy's speech, Exceptional Students Program teacher Sircalular Shannon asked the ninth-graders to stand and read a pledge with her: "I do hereby pledge to graduate from high school. I solemnly promise for myself and for my future to study hard and to remain in school. I promise to graduate and fulfill my potential. I promise to not cut classes. I will not be lured away by distractions that hinder my education. I will follow my dreams and become all I can be."
Shannon concluded by telling the students, "You are the class of 2013.
Westover Principal William Chunn followed Shannon by giving the students a reality check through a statistic he learned recently while attending a leadership conference in Stone Mountain.
"One in four students don't graduate from high school; that's what statistics say, and you don't have to be a part of that," he said. "We want you to graduate. That's your mission. That's your focus. Let's be committed to graduating.
"We've got a good school," he added. "Every time I get a chance, I brag on you. But the most important thing I will do with you is shake your
hand when you graduate."