By Greg Gelpi
Her emotionally-charged words of caution silenced Forest Park High School's freshmen.
Michelle McWhorter, the mother of slain Forest Park freshman Krystal Williams, urged the students to stop the violence.
"Take life seriously. It's not a joke."
McWhorter told freshmen that her daughter wasn't a quitter and that they shouldn't be either, pushing them to stay in school.
"I'm telling you people please don't quit and please stop the violence," she said. "When you look at me, you're going to be looking at Krystal... I'm telling you to stop the violence and make something of yourselves."
McWhorter spoke during a time capsule ceremony, a ceremony dedicated to her daughter, held for the school's freshmen academy.
"Take a good look," McWhorter said. "It could be one of you next, if you don't get yourself together. Take a real good look."
The students had been fidgety, but her words got their attention as they fell still.
"It got really quiet," Justin Keyton, 15, said. "It was really emotional. It's just sad that that happened (to her daughter)."
Keyton said McWhorter's pleas will motivate students to stay in school, and he hopes that her words will reduce violence.
The Clayton County school system initiated the freshmen academy at each high school in an effort to ease the transition from middle school to high school and ultimately boost high school graduation rates.
"The research indicates that if you can get freshmen to the sophomore class then the likelihood they will graduate is great," Chief Academic Officer Sharon Contreras-Halton said.
The freshmen academy provides a "support system" for the students as freshmen are housed in classrooms that are close together, eat lunch together and create a school inside a school, Contreras-Halton said.
The academy buried two time capsules Tuesday and will open the capsules when the Class of 2008 prepares to graduate.
"Hopefully, it will motivate and inspire you to stay the course," Assistant Principal Ben Moore said. "We want you to look at your journey though the rearview mirror in 2008."
Bill Greene, the executive director of Teaching and Learning, asked the students to hold hands, look at each other and understand their commitment to themselves, school and each other to graduate together in 2008.
"I want you to be here and be ready for graduation," Greene said.
The capsules included a list of the freshmen, pictures of the students and other memorabilia from the year, as well as a special dedication to Williams.
Williams was shot in the head when bullets were fired at an April 23 birthday party. She died the following day.
"Krystal was a very special person to all of us, and we miss her," Moore said.