Garner Magnet High School graduated the biggest class in its history Thursday, a class that principal Drew Cook credited with continuing the rise in academic achievement over the last four years at the school.
More than 490 students in a class of 526 walked during the ceremony at the Raleigh Convention Center in downtown Raleigh. Town, county and state leaders as well as school officials and parents watched hundreds of graduates clad in Garner blue stroll across the stage for their diploma, a customary handshake and a photo.
Cook said the size of the class had significance beyond its reflection of the growing student population; it also indicated graduation rate improving over recent years. (This years numbers haven’t been calculated.) Overall achievement was high, Cook said, with 123 graduating with distinguished honors (3.75 GPA or better) and another 59 with honors, totaling 35 percent of the class.
“In the four years they were with us we saw a steady growth in achievement.” Cook said. “I would also probably say that it’s one of the more spirited classes I can recall. They’ve been very involved in athletics, really helped build the Blue Crew, and a lot of kids were involved in fine arts and extracurriculars.”
The reading of the names took up most of the time; and though most abided by requests to hold applause until the end but dozens of family members couldn’t resist letting out a quick shout.
But the bigger reactions came when each of the six disabled graduates were helped across the stage to receive their diplomas, sprinkled in amongst their classmates. Cook noted that the student guiding each to the stage had worked with them all year long, and the whole crowd politely disregarded the hold-the-applause rule during the process.
While for some, the day represented just a stepping stone on the way to another graduation in four years, Cook called it important to recognize all graduates.
“I think sometimes we take for granted how big this day really is. Our honors graduates, they worked very hard, but they’re going to be successful regardless,” Cook said. “We have to remember that for some of our kids it was truly an honor to walk across that stage.”
Valedictorian Mary Anna Rice noted that most graduation speeches included plenty of clichés, then embraced the concept by cramming as many as she could into hers, “beating a dead horse” as she put it.
Her first draft, she said, had been rejected by the school as not quite fitting of the occasion.
“I liked my speech. I had to change it because the first one was too sarcastic, and I had to write a new one. I didn’t think (the first one) was that bad,” Rice mused after the ceremony.
After the thunderous ovation following the switching of the tassels from the right to the left side of the caps, the class processed out and met with family and friends.
“I think this moment is what all of us enjoy the most, watching the smiles, watching the families, having them come up to you and say thank you, and knowing that they are going to go off and do something great,” Cook said.
The class was hurried out of the building – used for several graduations during the week – after mingling; the projector already reading ‘Apex High Class of 2013 as students left.
Graduates talked afterward about their time at Garner High and what made it special, and about their future plans.
Jordan Bowman, who played Sonny in the spring musical Grease and graduated with honors, plans to attend UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s been accepted as a part of the C-Step program where he’ll attend Wake Tech for two years and study biology.
“It was a lot of fun. The last four years have been a wild ride, with ups and downs,” Bowman said. I’m really excited about the future, but also glad to be done with high school.”
“I guess that’s the standard answer;” he joked.
Bria Riggs also graduated with honors, and she wants to be an elementary school teacher. She will attend UNC-Charlotte.
“I have mixed feelings,” Riggs said. “I enjoyed the four years more than I thought I would.”
Another honors grad, Ethan Mitchell will make a stop at boot camp for the Air Force Reserves – a part time job to help pay for college at Campbell University. He wants to study international relations with an interest in becoming an ambassador someday.
“It’s crazy, now, all going our separate ways,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s friend Ryan Mahjoub will study civil engineering at UNC-Charlotte, and looked forward to meeting a new group of friends.
“I’m ready to make a new start,” Mahjoub said.
Blair Doak will return to his home state of Kentucky – he’s been in Garner since third grade. The football team’s center – who happily noted the team was 29-2 during his final two seasons – has an eye toward studying physical therapy at the University of Kentucky after starting in community college.
“It’s bittersweet,” Doak said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better four years.”
His teammate Bernard Owens lined up at defensive tackle for the Trojans, and said he’d miss football season the most. He plans on attending Wake Tech, and, like many, is unsure of what he wants to do.
“Yessir, got to step into the real world now, and I’m not ready for it,” he said.