Leadership Clayton graduates its 38th class

County and state leaders gathered at Clayton State University Wednesday to honor the newest class of Leadership Clayton graduates.

The members represented the 38th group of participants to complete the nine-month, Clayton County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored, leadership-training course.

During a special ceremony and dinner, this year's 16 graduates — all employed in, or residing in Clayton — joined the ranks of numerous county leaders and elected officials who have completed the class over the past four decades.

The 2010 class includes:

•Judge Richard C. Brown, of the Clayton County Magistrate Court,

• Joshua Byrd, of the Clayton County Board of Health,

• Cyd Cox, of the Clayton County Information and Technology Department,

• Wanda Davis-Bender, employed by the Clayton County Board of Commissioners,

• Natasha Hutson, of Clayton State University,

• Sebastian Jackson, city manager of Lovejoy,

• Reza Kheirandish, of Clayton State University,

• Chaundra Lewis, employed by the Clayton County State Court,

• Yolanda Lewis, court administrator of the Clayton County State and Superior Courts,

• Bridgette McDonald, of Clayton State University,

• Augustus Palmer, III, of the Riverdale Police Department,

• Stephanie A. Reid, of College Counseling,

• Wayne Rich, of Clayton County Public Schools,

• Betrice A. Scott, of Georgia State University,

• Traftin Thompson, of Cache Consulting, LLC,

• Ryan Vermeulen, of Consolidated Office Solutions, Inc.

According to Angela Redding, chairman of the Leadership Clayton Advisory Board, the graduates all spent nine months learning the ins and outs of Clayton County government, familiarizing themselves with local issues and non-profit groups, learning how legislation is passed at the General Assembly, and implementing two, long-term projects to improve the community.

"This class, as with most of the classes, they have stepped up to represent themselves and their respective companies," Redding said. "They all showed leadership throughout the nine months. You really got to see them blossom into their own."

During the course, the graduates split into two teams, each taking on a different community project. The results were:

• Connecting Clayton, a program currently based at the Lovejoy Community Center that puts needy locals in touch with local services, such as food banks, shelters, and employment centers,

• And Impact Clayton 360º, an initiative to create a grant-writing manual, so that future Leadership Clayton graduates can successfully apply for grants to sustain future Leadership Clayton programs.

Carol W. Hunstein, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, was the keynote speaker during Wednesday's graduation ceremony, and State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Ellenwood) presented the graduates with a proclamation on behalf of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation.

Hunstein, the first female Superior Court judge in DeKalb County, and only the second woman to serve on the state's Supreme Court as a permanent member, urged the graduates to make bold moves on behalf of the county. "Leaders are not made, they are born," she said. "Your county needs you. You who graduate know you can leave with the tools to bring your county back to greatness. Each of you has the strength and capability to accomplish anything you set your mind to."

Glanton also called on graduates to help their community. "Many of you are leaders in your own right, in your own organizations, in your own companies, but we need you right now to step outside the realm of that safe environment," he said. "You are here because someone thought that you would make a great leader in this community. Now, I am asking you to help the rest of us who are out here move this county in the right direction."

Many of the graduates, who hail from a variety of positions in local governments and businesses, felt inspired to contribute to the county with their newfound knowledge.

"I want to make a change," said Lovejoy City Manager Sebastian Jackson, one of the graduates. "Doing this program makes you want to stay in Clayton County. I've seen the changes and the results that the graduates of this program have been able to make. I want to follow in their footsteps."

Joshua Byrd, who was honored as being the top leader of the 2010 class, said he will take the confidence he gained through Leadership Clayton into law school in the fall. "A lot of times, you need to see other leaders leading, to understand how to lead, and Leadership Clayton surrounds you with a lot of effective leaders," he said. "It taught me how to reach out to leaders ... knowing what to do to make things work. It gives you the confidence to do something."