A few years ago, graduating high school was the least of Danielle Yelverton‘s problems. The seventh grader had lost her older sister and her behavior left her poor and single mother desperate.
Friday, she, her mother and an elementary teacher who swooped in to help as a second mother may have been the most proud people in a very large auditorium full of them. Not only will Yelverton be the first in her immediate family to graduate, she will attend college on a full scholarship at Elizabeth City State University.
About 500 students graduated from Garner Magnet High School in front of several hundred friends and family at the Raleigh Convention Center Friday in a snappy ceremony that featured two short valedictorian speeches as well as remarks from the principal.
“The diploma you are about to receive represents much more than the academic knowledge you acquire in school. It recognizes your desire to succeed, your willingness to learn and your ability to persevere in the face of adversity,” principal Drew Cook told the class.
The class featured much success in academic, sports and the arts. It set a new high in total honors students, and for “the first time I can recall” according to Cook, won the Neuse River conferences’ Wells Fargo Cup for overall sports finishes. Although Cook said he has said other classes were close knit, he said this one certainly also fit the bill and developed its own personality.
“They’re a funny group of kids. They have a sense of humor,” Cook said.
Amber Courtney, who tied with Joseph Giroux with a 5.25 GPA at the head of the class, spoke about the importance of education and the efforts of parents and teachers along the way. Early in the speech, she quoted Thomas Edison.
“Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.’ Don’t be that person,” said the basketball captain set to attend Wake Forest to study .
Giroux, a soccer player who will study mechanical engineering at Iowa State, spoke about the difficulty of finding purpose.
“Everyone has one; it just isn’t always easy to find,” Giroux said.
In his speech, Cook quoted Dwight D. Eisenhower 70 years to the day after D-Day: “Teachers need our active support and encouragement. They are doing one of the most necessary and exacting jobs in the land. They are developing our most precious natural resources, our children and future citizens.”
He said that’s never been more true, emphasizing “never.” It was a not so subtle appeal for support for more teachers from the community and, perhaps more so, policy-makers setting aside education resources.
“We’re asking our teachers to do more and more with less and less. It means a lot to have community and parents and kids supporting and encouraging them,” Cook said afterward.