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Students, parents appreciate first summer graduation

By Johnny Jackson

Recently, several students robed their school colors in a spectrum of pomp and circumstance to be honored in Clayton County School's first summer commencement.

"In the history of the county, there has been no summer graduation," said William Greene, executive director to teaching and learning for Clayton County Schools.

"This is a unified graduation for students who completed their high school requirements this summer," Greene said.

As Michael Cherry, an 18-year-old from Morrow High, students from different schools throughout the county received their high school diplomas, surrounded by family and friends in the Ernest L. Shroud Hall of the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center.

"We wanted to give them an opportunity to celebrate with their family," Greene said. "Ken Sanders (coordinator of guidance and counseling) and Gloria Duncan, (principal at Riverdale High) helped to really coordinate this effort and bring (superintendent) Dr. Pulliam's vision to light.

"We expect great things from our students. We want to celebrate their accomplishments today and hope Clayton County has prepared them well for the future."

Renee Rackley of Riverdale is particularly proud of her daughter Zakiya Rackley, 18, who graduated from North Clayton High.

"I'm proud, and I'm happy," Rackley said. "This is a good thing for the ones that went to summer school."

She described her daughter as an outgoing person who can be silly at times.

"It's been hard but fair," Rackley said, commenting on her daughter's high school experiences. "(Next) she wants to go to school to be a pediatrician."

And Chloe Mason narrowly missed the sunrise Wednesday. The 19-year-old graduate of Lovejoy High School from Jonesboro said she celebrated her graduation with friends and family until nearly four in the morning.

She explained that she plans to go to basic training in November, as she aspires to be a medic in the United States Air Force.

"I'm very excited," she said. "I like to help people, and I'd like more discipline in my life."

She said she was inspired by the words of Rev. Rod Johnson, board of education member, who offered words of inspiration at the commencement.

Johnson orated a theme, 'Crossing the Finish Line.'

"My main objective was to share with the graduates that it is more important to cross the finish line, not when they cross the finish line," he said. "I shared with them that tomorrow is going to be a new race. They should make sure to use their ability and desire to excel.

"Put the lord first, pray daily, and every day, be about the business of finishing the race, because greatness is in the ability to finish."

Cherry spent part of his Wednesday morning packing a backpack--toothbrush and moisturizer. He said he packed a few hygenic products to take with him Friday to basic training at the Navy Recruit Training Center in Great Lakes, Ill.

Once a freshman who mostly enjoyed high school basketball games and sports, Cherry plans to become a culinary artist in the United States Navy.

He said he first fell in love with cooking when his mother Rachel Brown taught him at 10.

"She's a little sad," Cherry said about his mother's reaction to his departure. "But she knows she has to let me leave. She's very proud of me."

Cherry enlisted last May but admits he is still a little nervous.

"I'm a little nervous about basic training," he said. "I think that will pass when I get there; I'm anticipating some good times and bad times, but nothing I can't handle."