By Johnny Jackson and Curt Yeomans
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On Friday, the Patrick Henry High School senior class represented the first graduates from the class of 2008 in Clayton and Henry counties.
They were the first few of thousands of area public and private high school seniors who made their monumental step into adulthood, receiving their high school diplomas.
Henry County Schools Superintendent Jack Parish delivered the commencement speech, before about 75 of them took the ceremonial walk across the stage of the Henry County Performing Arts Center in front of a standing-room crowd Friday afternoon.
As the 2007-08 school year ended for thousands of pre-school-through-high-school students across the Southern Crescent, many in Henry and Clayton counties took the first steps into their adult lives.
"It's a blessing," said new Patrick Henry graduate ,Tevin Woods, 18. "That's all I can say. It's a long time coming."
As schools released students for the summer, several children began to turn their thoughts away from books and pencils, to games and vacations.
In Henry County, the 2008-09 school year begins on Aug. 4, and classes in Clayton schools begin three days later.
"I'm looking forward to playing lots of baseball and football this summer," said Antonio Berry, 6, who completed kindergarten at Especially for Kids, Inc., in Riverdale on Friday, before heading to Lee Street Park in Jonesboro to play an impromptu baseball game with his brother, Anthony, and his grandmother, Brenda Driskell.
At Jackson Elementary School, 160 kindergartners wore little blue gowns and graduation caps during their commencement ceremony. The school conducts a kindergarten graduation ceremony annually to celebrate the accomplishments of the youths, and to encourage them to work hard as first-graders during the next year.
"It feels good to graduate from kindergarten, because I'm ready to go to the pool, and to Sea World [in Orlando, Fla.] this summer with my family," said kindergarten graduate, Tamari Miller.
Several elementary and middle schools throughout both counties held "promotion" ceremonies for fifth- and eighth-graders in the week leading up to the end of the school year.
On Thursday, State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) spoke at Church Street Elementary School's fifth-grade promotion and honors ceremony, which was held at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center.
Seay encouraged the students to continue working hard in school, and to make sure they always make the right decisions in life.
"You're going to be faced with more challenges, and a lot of tough choices, but I want you to always make choices that you can live with," Seay said. "If someone pressures you to do something, and you don't know if you should do it, ask yourself if your parents would approve of you taking that action?"
As each student walked across the Performing Arts Center's stage in what represented his or her graduation from elementary school, he or she was beaming with a big, bright smile and posed for the countless photographs being taken by loving family members.
Similarly, at the Patrick Henry graduation ceremony on Friday, the parents seemed as thrilled as their children to see the young people move on to a higher level.
Coretta Brown Lee joined several members of her family in supporting her son, 19-year-old Vernon Head, as he graduated from Patrick Henry High School.
"I'm glad that he got his diploma, and he can better his life," Brown Lee said. "It's been a long time, and he finally made it."
Head's aunt, Suvannee Brown Lee, said she was as proud of Head as his mother.
"Congratulations, nephew," said Suvannee. "Now, you can sleep late. Welcome to the real world."