ALBANY — The Dougherty County School System held its class of 2017 graduation ceremonies Saturday at the Albany Civic Center, passing out 837 diplomas to graduates from all four high schools.
For the students leaving Albany High School, the last ceremony of the day, it was particularly bittersweet. With the Dougherty County School Board considering a plan to close the school, the 172 seniors who graduated Saturday evening were likely Albany High’s last class.
“The decision has not yet been finalized,” Dougherty County School System’s Public Information Officer J.D. Sumner said, “but Albany High is the smallest graduating class and the possible closing definitely adds a very somber element to an otherwise celebratory event.”
The seniors lined up and proudly walked out with the understanding that they might be the last to ever graduate from Albany High. They held their heads up, ready to embrace their future.
“This long anticipated occasion comes with sadness and joy as we acknowledge that our journey at Albany High School is coming to a close,” senior Ja’Meka Johnson said. “It has been full of twists and turns and marked by numerous challenges to overcome, whether they were academic, athletic, artistic or personal, but just looking around this assembly we can pick out the faces of those who have been with us through the best and worst of times.
“On this special day we will reflect on yesterday, appreciate today and look with some fear and doubt, but mostly excitement and anticipation for tomorrow. One thing we can never deny is that today belongs to all of us.”
The day-long event began at 9 a.m. with Westover High School’s class of 2017. Staggered ceremonies were conducted two and a half hours apart to accommodate the large crowds.
Two hundred and seventy-four seniors from Westover, the first of the day, proudly marched onto the floor in their caps and gowns to face an uncertain, but exciting future.
Practically every seat in the center was filled with parents, grandparents, family and friends cheering for “their” graduate, who was taking that first step into the real world.
“Today is the day,” Westover senior Talia Ali Sisroe said during the ceremony, “We did it. After all these seemingly endless years, it almost feels like a dream, doesn’t it? But it’s real. Four years ago we walked into the doors of Westover together, not really knowing what to expect. Now as we leave, we have our memories to hold close and our sense of accomplishment for doing what we set our minds to, graduating. Today is bitter sweet for all of us, I’m sure.
“After working for so long and seeing all those familiar faces, letting go is an adjustment, but as we adjust let’s take pride in our accomplishment and not forget those who have gotten us here, the people in the audience today. Without you this would not have been possible. This journey began with baby steps and it ends with a walk across the stage. During the journey nothing could stop us, not even tornadoes.”
Westover was followed by Monroe High School at 11:30 a.m.
The excitement was palpable as Monroe’s 215 seniors, dressed in green and gold, marched onto the floor. The cheers from the audience were deafening at times. Many families wore t-shirts with the picture of their graduate on the front.
Shouts of parental support echoed down from the seats and that support was acknowledged and thanked by senior Britanni’ Whitehead.
“Before we walk across the stage to receive our diplomas, it is significant that we take a moment to express sincere gratitude to our parents,” Whitehead said. “Each of us agrees that this has been a long journey for us, but with you being present, it was not as challenging. Parents, you have given us the motivation to make something of ourselves and as our true journey has just begun, we will continue to make you proud. We will succeed.
“To our parents, you are special in every way, motivating us continuously in each day. You are the reason why we are successful. With you, nothing can defeat us. You’ve helped us overcome trials and tribulations. You’ve made things better in every situation. Thank you for always being there and showing us that you truly care.”
Dougherty High School was the third ceremony of the day and the students changed things up a bit, Sumner said.
“The seniors at Dougherty are doing things just a little bit different,” Sumner said. “During the procession, instead of just lining up and walking in, the students are being escorted by someone special to them or someone who has made a profound difference in their lives.”
After the 176 students of the class of 2017 were seated — but before any of the scheduled speakers approached the podium — the audience took to their feet as student Tyranda Plummer performed an emotionally charged and intricately played rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Plummer’s control and Charlie-Parker-style-embellishments revealed a player beyond her years.
Plummer completed the climatic ending of the beloved song, slung her Alto saxophone back down by her side and returned to the awaiting orchestra, seemingly oblivious of the roaring crowd that was cheering in her praise.
“It is hard to believe that our last four years here at Dougherty Comprehensive High School are coming to a close,” student speaker Kaitlan Daniels said. “It is a fantastic achievement for each of us to have made it to this day and I am proud to share this moment with all of you.
“We have received an education that is second to none and one that has helped shape our minds, lift our spirits and comfort our hearts. To borrow the words of the late Nelson Mandela, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.’”