A year ago, 13 students took a gamble and left their high schools to spend their senior years at a new and untested program at the Vernon Malone College and Career Academy.
Their courage was rewarded Thursday as five seniors became the first graduates at Vernon Malone. The other eight seniors are staying for an additional year to continue taking specialized technical courses offered by Wake Tech at Malone.
“It was a really difficult decision for all of the students who came here to leave their home high schools to come to a brand-new school,” Principal Ashlie Thompson told the graduates Thursday. “And I know that it was especially difficult for all of you because you left your school prior to your senior year. You all are brave, and you are clearly risk takers.”
Thursday’s graduation of five seniors at Vernon Malone and 14 seniors at Wake STEM Early College will be among the smallest ceremonies of this graduation season in the Wake County school system. During the next two weeks, 22 other Wake County high schools will hold ceremonies where as many as 500 graduates will walk across the stage.
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Thursday’s 20-minute ceremony at Vernon Malone was shorter and more intimate than the ceremonies that are typically run like clockwork at venues such as the Raleigh Convention Center.
“The feeling hasn’t hit me yet,” said Amiya Morgan, 17, of Raleigh, who had gone to Garner High before graduating from Vernon Malone. “Right now I’m just really happy.”
Morgan, who plans to continue her cosmetology studies, and two other graduates will attend Wake Tech as college students.
Vernon Malone opened in August as a first-of-a-kind high school in Wake County that offered students a chance to get a diploma and specialized job training. Wake Tech provides the instructors for the technical courses, in a partnership with the Wake school system and Wake County government, which renovated a former Coca-Cola bottling plant in South Raleigh to house the $24.5-million new school.
The technical programs include cosmetology, automobile-collision repair, welding, nursing assistant, bio-pharmaceuticals, geospatial information systems, and simulation and game development.
The original plan was to have just sophomores and juniors in the first year. The senior class was to have come next school year.
But Vernon Malone drew so few applicants that rising seniors were accepted. Even with the 13 seniors, the school’s 131 students puts the school at 30 percent of its capacity of 640 students.
Jonathan Aloba, 18, one of the school’s graduates, had gone to a much larger high school last year in New Jersey before moving to Cary. Aloba, who plans to study computer science at N.C. State, said it was different and a little bit awkward at first being in a school with so few fellow seniors.
“I definitely got accustomed to it,” Aloba said. “It’s interesting how you really get to know everyone.”
Future graduating classes will be larger. The decision to allow the school to offer ninth grade helped boost enrollment this fall to 323 students.
But because of a lack of interest, the school is no longer offering air conditioning/heating/refrigeration, electrical systems and plumbing as separate programs for new students. Instead those three programs are being combined into a new program called facilities technology, where students will also take courses in welding.
The school will eventually have more than 100 graduates a year and ceremonies could be moved to Wake Tech to accommodate larger crowds. But this first graduation in the school’s media center is an occasion that will be remembered.
“This is a nice space,” said Thompson, the principal. “But this will be the only time that we’ll have it here, which makes it very special. And these five graduates are very special. They are our first graduates.”
Hui: 919-829-4534: Twitter: @nckhui