By Ed Brock
See Pages 9, 10, 11 for the lists of graduating students and more commencement photos.
A little rain and a lot of humidity did not dampen the spirit of Clayton County's first two high school graduations.
Just under 300 Mt. Zion High School seniors and their family and friends suffered through brief showers at the beginning of their graduation ceremony at Tara Stadium on Battle Creek Road in Jonesboro Friday night.
Further to the south at Twelve Oaks Stadium in Lovejoy the skies stayed relatively clear as more than 400 seniors from Lovejoy High School accepted their diplomas. Even the humidity cleared a little with nightfall.
The class of 2004 is marked by its high self-respect, Mt. Zion High School Lead Counselor Stephanie Johnson said.
"I have never had a year as wonderful as this one, and I've been here nine years," Johnson said. "These students just really seem to be there for each other."
Mt. Zion High School
Graduating senior Jeffrey Stephens of Hampton was happy and sad at the start of the ceremony.
"Happy I'm graduating and going on to a new life," Stephens said. "But I'm also sad because I'm going to miss my friends. Please excuse if I start to cry. I'm very emotional."
But Stephens said he's ready to get the future started. So was his classmate Amber Jones of Morrow.
"I'm relieved and happy," said Jones, who plans to go to Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah and study to be an actress. "It's a new future, a new beginning."
Asia Jones of Riverdale plans to go to the Atlanta School of Massage.
"I'm glad it's over with," she said of her high school career.
The school's valedictorian, Carolyn Marcus, said that in her address to her classmates she would tell them to appreciate the significance of the evening.
"This is a rite of passage," Marcus said. "Don't rush through it."
Marcus plans to go on to Mercer University in Macon, where she will study chemistry or computer science.
Willie Smith of Union City drove in to see her granddaughter, Jene Patterson of Riverdale, graduate.
"I'm just happy that she's made it this far," Smith said, saying Patterson would be going on to attend Clark Atlanta University.
Patterson's aunt, Vivian Sutton, said she was most proud of her niece's athletic talent.
"She's an excellent cheerleader," Sutton said. "I mean outstanding,"
The graduation was truly special for Carolyn Stevenson of Jonesboro and her daughter Lakeisha Bridges.
"My daughter is in special education, so I'm very proud of her," Stevenson said.
Lovejoy High School
Friday night was special for more than one reason for Kelly Morris of Jonesboro. Her daughter Kaitlyn Morris was graduating and her youngest daughter, 15-year-old rising sophomore Sarah Morris, helped honor the occasion.
"She commanded the guard (of the high school's ROTC program) for the first time tonight," said Kelly Morris, a secretary in the school's counseling office. "It was my night."
Other parents were just as proud of their children.
"I'm loving it," said Stacy Williams of Stone Mountain. "It's my second one (to graduate high school) and I've got two more to go."
Her son, Gregory Coleman II, lives with his father in Clayton County, so he attended Lovejoy High School. He will go on to attend Clayton College & State University.
In his commencement address, the school's salutatorian Philip Henderson told his classmates not to focus on material success.
"The greatest reward is strong, healthy character," Henderson said. "Not everybody here will be a doctor or a lawyer, but we can all be a lady or a gentleman of strong character."
The ceremony was fun, graduate Keith Hendrix said.
"The thing went by too fast," said Hendrix, who plans to study business at the University of Georgia. "Everything really went by too fast."
"I'm glad it's over," said Brandon Hann, who has a full scholarship to the Art Institute of Atlanta, where he will study the culinary arts.
Graduation was overwhelming for Martina Hail and Keneishia White.
"No words can describe it," White said.
But the ceremony was far from goodbye for the two friends. Both girls plan to go to Georgia State University, Hail to study music and White to study journalism.
"And we're rooming together," Hail said.
Not all of the school's seniors were celebrating Friday night. At least one 18-year-old female student who was supposed to graduate went to jail instead of the ceremony.
Acting on a tip that there would be a fight at the school, Clayton County police increased security at the school, Clayton County Police Department Capt. Tim Robinson said. At about 3:15 p.m. the department's police helicopter spotted several people in the park near the school engaged in a fight. As police closed in on the fight the suspects tried to leave, driving two cars and a Jeep.
The helicopter landed in front of the cars in an attempt to stop them.
"The Jeep continued as if it was going to ram the helicopter," Robinson said.
Though the helicopter lifted up out of the way, the Jeep was stopped at the scene while the other two cars managed to drive away. Those two cars were stopped later.
Police arrested eight people, including the graduating senior girl who was the driver of the Jeep. Robinson did not have the girl's name available Friday evening, nor did he have the names or ages of the other seven suspects and he could not confirm if they were also students at the high school.