By Ed Brock
North Clayton High School senior Zarahma Trottman had one or two extra hurdles to leap in her race toward graduation.
For one thing, when she started at the school Trottman, 19, had just arrived in America with her family from Panama.
"Everything was different," Trottman said. "It took me about three weeks to get involved with all the kids."
Then, last year, she learned she was pregnant with her son, Zay-kevion. She didn't tell her parents for the first five months of the pregnancy, but when she did her parents were disappointed but supportive.
So she had the baby and now, on May 27, she's going to get that hard-earned diploma.
"It's something I have accomplished by myself," Trottman said. "I finally made it."
She's one of 295 seniors who will file out of Tara Stadium to take their first steps into the rest of their lives.
Graduation may be something she accomplished, but Trottman said she did it with the help of her friends, teachers and counselors.
Now she plans to go to the Art Institute of Atlanta to study interior design.
"I just want to decorate people's houses, make it my own way," Trottman said.
Reginald Fountain, 18, said he didn't have words to express how happy he is to be graduating. And he has ambitious plans for his future.
"I plan on starting my own business," Fountain said. "I'm an entrepreneur. I don't like working for anybody. I want to be my own boss."
And his idea for a business is a combination "run and shoot" gym and nightclub. He even has a location picked out.
He might just go to a two-year business school as well. Fountain said his time at North Clayton.
Fountain plays left tackle for the North Clayton Eagles and the best thing that happened to him during his high school years was finishing with an undefeated season. The first three years were not so successful.
"The seasons before were learning experiences," Fountain said.
One of Fountain's fellow graduates, 18-year-old Jamaal Parham, also had a confidence building experience in his senior year. He became Mr. North Clayton High School.
"It's less of a pageant, more of a chance to show what you got," Parham said.
It was his positive attitude that earned him the title, Parham said.
Parham also had a challenge to meet. He comes from a single parent household and he had to help his mother with looking after his younger brother and he went to work to earn extra money for the household.
He plans to go to A&M University in Florida to study electrical engineering, an ambition he's had since childhood when he worked on any gizmo he laid hands on.
"I used to shock myself all the time," Parham said.
Graduation is when North Clayton's valedictorian Lashaundra Pierce, 17, will see her four years of hard work "come to a head."
But Pierce said she's found time for friends, volleyball and drama club while maintaining her 4.17 grade point average.
"The grade thing comes from staying focused. I had to say just this once I'm not going to go out with the buddies," Pierce said.
Pierce plans to go to Georgia College and State University for a pre-med program she hopes will lead to a career as a doctor or nurse in emergency medicine. Her mother is an emergency room nurse, so Pierce is quick to explain her attraction to such a challenging field.
"It's the excitement, not knowing what's coming next but knowing a split second decision can save a life," Pierce said.
As for the high point of high school for here, Pierce said it was the time she played two " "very distinctive characters" at a dinner theater production put on by the drama club.
One character was the slighted lover of a man about to get married.
"I spent the entire play just sobbing," Pierce said.
The other woman was, well, a nerd.
"I guess you can say I am a nerd and I play one on TV," Pierce said.
Things haven't always been so much fun at North Clayton. Like many of the county's schools, North Clayton has seen some violence. Jasmine Sykes, 18, said the massive fight that happened during a school assembly in her junior year was the most dramatic moment of her high school career.
Police and media swarmed over the school, but Sykes said the attention was not really merited.
"It wasn't as exciting as everybody made it seem," Sykes said.
Since then, however, the school has definitely become safer, said Sykes.
"We've just started more security around here," Sykes said.
Sykes said she plans to go into medicine as well, but she wants to be a pediatrician.
Ottavia Jones, 18, plans to go to college and study to become a video game programmer.
Her time at North Clayton passed without too much drama, but she's grateful for having been there.
"If I wasn't here I'd probably be doing something I'm not supposed to be doing," Jones said.