ALBANY, Ga. -- The largest class in most every high school in America is the freshman class. The smallest is the senior class, due to ever-increasing dropout rates. This statistic was the catalyst for a new event at Albany High School.
The ninth-grade teachers at Albany High decided to create a graduation celebration for the students moving to 10th grade as a form of encouragement to stay in school.
There was all the pomp and circumstance of most graduation ceremonies, as the students walked in a processional down the center aisle of the Albany High School Auditorium Sunday, serenaded by the Albany High Band. The girls were in white dresses and the boys were in black slacks, white dress shirts and black ties. All of the students wore an orange sash around their necks to signify that they were a part of the Class of 2014.
The message to never give up and never drop out of school was the focus of the day, and guest motivational speaker Kevin Taylor, a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, made sure that the students, their families and friends heard that message loud and clear.
"Every 17 seconds someone drops out of school," Taylor said. "Brothers and sisters, don't be one of these people.
"Three years from now, you want to be at your graduation!" Taylor said, to a rousing round of applause from the audience.
Quoting such notables as Nelson Mandela and Spike Lee, Taylor encouraged the students to spend time with wise people, to read as much as possible and to make the most out of what they have been given. He also impressed upon the ninth graders that there is more to life than just making the grade.
"The three 'R's, reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic, are a must. But we need some respect don't we? How about responsibility? Now how about this: How about some righteousness? Those are the six 'R's."
Also, as a part of the ceremony, the students thanked their teachers who guided them throughout the school year, and who taught them and gave sacrificially of themselves to ensure that the students were motivated.
"These teachers take money from their own pockets to hold a success lunch every 9 weeks for those students who pass their classes," said student Ja'Queria Glass.
The appreciation was apparently mutual as Albany High Principal Sheila Chatmon-Marshall addressed the students.
"You obviously set a goal for yourself and you've made it count. Congratulations." said Chatmon-Marshall. "However, this is just the beginning. You must continue to set goals for yourself."
"We believe the first step towards success in any endeavor is to become interested in it," said R.D. Harter, public information director for the Dougherty County School System, in a statement to The Albany Herald. "This graduation is our way of helping our students become interested in graduating from high school. Hopefully, this celebration will bring a tremendous harvest of future high school graduates."