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Earning a diploma a different way

Not everyone learns the same way, and not everyone fits into a traditional classroom setting.

Eight seniors who fit into that alternative category received their diplomas May 24 at the Apalachicola Estuarine Research Reserve as the Class of 2022 became the largest group yet to earn their sheepskin from ED Corps, an alternative public high school overseen by the Franklin’s Promise Coalition.

“Just a little over a year or two ago, I had no friends, and was so lonely doing online school all by myself,” said Leah Wren, in her valedictorian address. “I had no hope for my future and unfortunately fell into really bad habits. I woke up every day and didn’t even try to do my school work. I told myself that I would do nothing in life. 

“My mom brought up ED Corps to me. I told her it was useless and I would never succeed. Now here I am, graduating as class valedictorian,” she said. “I am so immensely grateful that I came here. I genuinely would not be here if it wasn’t for everyone at ED Corps. I want everyone to know that you should never ever give up.

“I was at that point of giving up but I didn’t and ended up with the most kind-hearted, genuine people I could ever ask for,” said Wren. “Never give up because sometimes great things take time; that is what I have learned from joining everyone at ED Corps.”

Wren was joined in the graduating class by fellow classmates Slayde Cain, Jaden Golden, Betsy Mosley, Emily Patterson, Chance Roney, Austin Shiver and Austin Taunton.

After a processional in caps and gowns, to “Pomp and Circumstance,” the ceremony began with remarks from Elinor Mount-Simmons, the administrator of ED Corps High School, which is accredited but offers a different diploma than what is given at Franklin County High School..

Cain led the Pledge of Allegiance, Roney the National Anthem and Patterson the Invocation, followed by Wren’s address.

After a tribute to parents, Roney offered a Poetic Reflection, followed by a commencement address by Ethan Frazier, crew leader with the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten & Emerald Coasts.

“I’ve been a part of the Conservation Corps for five years now and it has done a lot of great things in my life,” he told the graduates. “Before I joined, I had previously gotten into a car wreck the summer of 2017. I had to go to physical therapy for a few months. I was struggling in high school and was at the point of not passing, but I wanted to finish high school and be the first of my family to graduate.”

Frazier learned about ED Corps from Michael Taylor, a former graduate. “We had class together in high school and Michael was leaving and told me about the program on his final few days. I wanted to strive for my diploma and really dive in, and with the help of the teachers and Joe (Taylor) always keeping me on track and encouraging me to finish, I was able to do it,” said Frazier.

“It was a commitment, but everyone here took that commitment as well, and have made it to this point,” he said. “This group of graduates are amazing. I’ve had the pleasure to see them work in the field this year and show them some really awesome things that we do in the Corps. They were always having a good time and really enjoying being out and seeing nature and everything it has to offer. 

“Now that you’ve made it this far, the world is a big ocean and what you pick to do is up to you,” Frazier said. “But I will say do what makes you happy. Find something that when you wake up every morning you’re excited to go there. That’s a great thing to find and it’s okay if you don’t find it right away, it may take time, but you’ll find something that just makes you jump for joy in the mornings and brighten your day every time you show up. And if what you wanna do takes some steps to reach it, set goals and strive towards the steps you need to reach it. 

“Keeping a positive mind set and seeing the bigger picture is always worth the results and today proved it. It’s your time to shine when you come up here and we celebrate your achievement and your reaching your goal,” he said. 

The faculty and staff at Ed Corps include Sarah Harris and Deiara Prince, the academic coaches; Dr. Sarah Madson, school psychologist; Tamara Allen, board chair of Franklin’s Promise; Tristen Foley; Holden Foley and Betty Taylor-Webb.

“Eight young women and men sit before you, young adults who did what they had to do to earn their high school diploma. They made the tough decisions, drew upon amazing willpower and achieved remarkable success,” said Mount-Simmons. “Along the way, they had tremendous support from family, friends and their ED Corps family and so today, we celebrate.

“Graduates, there were times when you thought you were all along, that no one cared, that no one understood what you were going through, but look up there, look around and know that there are those who care, that there are those who understood what you were going through and today, they are here to celebrate this special milestone in your life with you,” she said. 

She also saluted volunteers Libby Newman, Susan Bassett, and Mary Johnson; monthly guest speakers Tamara Allen, Scott Shiver, David Walker, and AJ Smith; and major partners with ED Corps who provide ongoing services to students. 

They included Mrs. Barbara Floyd of the FAMU Extension Agency, The Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, Valentina Webb of CareerSource Gulf Coast, The Conservation Corps of the Forgotten & Emerald Coast, and the Franklin’s Promise Coalition Board.

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