Five young men and women graduated last month from high school in Franklin County, but it wasnt from Franklin County High School.
Rather, at a ceremony June 4 at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve outdoor amphitheater, they graduated from ED Corps High School of the Forgotten and Emerald Coasts, the very first graduating class from the fledgling program conducted under the auspices of Franklins Promise Coalition at its headquarters facility on island Drive in Eastpoint.
Wearing blue caps-and-gowns, and seated proudly before a collection of family and friends, William Austin Gray, Elijah James Mathes, Shirah Grace Pelt, Emily Lee Shuman and Deontay KeShaun Williams were presented their diplomas by veteran educator Elinor Mount-Simmons, who administers the program; Dr. Sarah Madson, the school psychologist, and Tamara Allen, the chairman of the board, and Joe Taylor, the executive director, of the Franklins Promise Coalition.
It is important to understand that these five students are not the delinquent kids, the troubled ones, or the seriously failing ones. Rather, they are those who march to a different drummer, the ones who may have trouble fitting in to a status-driven environment, who thrive under personalized instruction.
I was worried at first, said Grays father, Bill Gray. But he found his new family here.
Mathes father George Mathes, felt the same way, as he hugged his son following the ceremony.
I think this is great, very one-on-one, he said. Not all kids do well with all the distractions that are in the public school. They really excelled here.
Hes always been a good student, but the noise (at school) distracted him a lot, Mathes said. This is a great thing, I believe. Hes done a million times better than he did at the other school.
Superintendent Stave Lanier, who was in the audience for the ceremony, said he understood the value of what ED Corps has been doing, to create a niche for students who flourish under an alternative environment.
Everything about this program has been exceptional, said Crystal Golden, of Sumatra, whose son Cameron will be a freshman next year at ED Corps, and son Jaden a senior.
Five young women and men sit before you, young adults who did what they had to do to earn their high school diploma, said Mount Simmons, in her opening remarks. They made the tough decisions, drew upon amazing willpower, and achieved remarkable success. Along the way they had tremendous support from family, friends and the ED Corps family, and so today, we celebrate.
Shuman led the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the singing of the National Anthem by Charles Petty, a crew leader with the Forgotten Coast Conservation Corps, a program also overseen by Franklins Promise, which works closely with the high schoolers to offer hands-on training during school years and to those who want to become a part of it after they graduate.
Valentina Webb, case manager for CareerSource Gulf Coast, offered the invocation. Inspire the graduates to put to good use all the knowledge, skill and life lessons gained through their education, she said. A chapter has closed and another eagerly awaits them. Pave the road with opportunities and inspire them to live with hope.
Holden Foley, director of restoration for the Conservation Corps, offered the commencement address, and his words implored the graduates to not fear the challenges that lie ahead.
Your comfort zone is your enemy, he said. Most people dont want to address their limitations and move beyond them, so they keep struggling.
We are not here on this planet to relax on the beach and get a tan, said Foley. We are here to grow. And if you dont make yourself uncomfortable, then life will force you out of your comfort zone. Either you commit to constant growth and feeling discomfort upon your own accord and become the master of your own destiny, or you hand over the keys and you let life happen to you be default.
There is a real price to success, and Life collects the payments, and let me tell you something, life does not accept payment plans. Your sacrifice must be paid upfront and in full, and that is the only way you are going to achieve the life you want, Foley said. Start making those calls, start approaching that person, start practicing kindness and compassion over jealousy and greed, confront your anxiety, hit the gym, study harder, start waking up early, even if youre not a morning person, and destroy your habit of procrastination.
Its time for you to get uncomfortable, its time for you to start accomplishing your dreams, he said, Take it and watch your life explode into greatness, Watch new levels of the game unfold for you. Its all waiting for you outside of your comfort zone. Go for it.
After the students handed out flowers to their families, ED Corps two academic coaches, Sarah Harris and Elizabeth Newman spoke briefly, followed by the handing out of diplomas, with Gray and Pelt each receiving Honor Cords.
Make sure you focus on people who make your life better, those who support you, push you forward, said Taylor in his closing farewell. Make room for people who lift you up.