Ready for the next step

By Trina Trice

The Lovejoy High School community heard words from the first African-American valedictorian Friday night at the school's commencement ceremony.

Amid good weather, a welcomed change from a weeklong rainy spell, hundreds gathered in the bleachers of Twelve Oaks Stadium, armed with balloons, flowers and cameras to see their favorite student bid farewell to high school.

Katrina Copney delivered her "Dare to Dream, Dare to be a Trailblazer" speech in front of more than 450 graduating seniors.

"I'm the first African-American valedictorian of Lovejoy High School," Copney said before the ceremony. "It shows that things are changing. It's probably a big change for this area. I think it's good for everyone to experience that."

Copney plans to attend Spelman College, where she'll major in political science. Copney would like to study law after college.

Looking back on her high school career, Copney remembered she almost didn't come to the school.

Originally from New York, she decided to live with her grandmother in Clayton County.

"I had to make the decision to come down here, that was the hardest" decision she had to make, she said. "The high school I was supposed to go to, I didn't like it."

Copney admits, though, that high school wasn't what she expected.

"It wasn't as good as I thought it would be," she said. "It was hard work. I had to focus on all my classes. It was an unconscious decision because I always try to do my best. I'm glad now; I think it paid off."

Senior Prince Jones, originally from Sierra Leone in West Africa, came to the country as a refugee.

"We came here directly," he said. "It wasn't that easy to just enjoy myself. I had to get used to the culture and the English, especially. It took about three or four months to get comfortable. That's how long it took me to learn French, too."

Senior Lillian Hale overcame her own set of obstacles, said father Mark Hale, calling the commencement ceremony "a relief."

"She struggled early on," he said. "Finally, in the last few years, she got self-motivated, got straight As and had perfect attendance."

Hale's daughter has been accepted to American Intercontinental University, where she might study fashion design.

Friday night was a proud night for senior Thomas Keillor.

"I'm child four out of five and I'm the first to graduate," he said. "I've got two brothers that flew in from the military to see me graduate. One of them just got back from the Middle East."

When asked what he'll miss the most about high school, Keillor said, "My girlfriend."

Keillor's friend Tiffany Kelly, though, said she'll miss all "the friendships. I'll miss the friends that I'll never get to see that will go on to better things."