Our Stories: Graduation memories and commitment

Contributed Community

By Dr. James Woodard

When the Governor made his announcement to close school for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, my heart was broken.  I knew that many plans would be delayed. Field trips would be canceled.  Many activities would have to wait until next year.  Sporting events would never occur. Recognition ceremonies would have a different twist.  The plans for middle schoolers to experience the new middle school would take place at a later time.  Annual performances would be skipped.  Canceled banquets could never provide ample recognition for student accomplishments.  From my perspective, there will be only one activity which would be nearly impossible to make over – high school graduation.  

I vividly remember my high school graduation. My personal story represents a story felt by many families.  My mom’s vision for me was to be the first in our family to be a high school graduate.  She knew that a high school diploma could open many opportunities for me.  She was correct.  She never envisioned that I would have the opportunity to provide encouragement to seniors robbed of their time of personal success and celebration because of an unprecedented pandemic.  My high school diploma did in fact open that door to my future and now the opportunity to provide these words of encouragement.

Graduation is much more than a rite of passage. The commencement ceremony celebrates the culmination of meeting more than a decade of expectations set forth for academic and personal achievement.  It also represents the value a community puts on the investment in young people and into the future of the community. The attached graduation pictures represent what my family envisioned and worked to accomplish.  My parent’s life mission was to keep me in school and ensure that my future was not impeded by lacking a basic degree – a high school diploma.  The pride my mom and dad exhibited in these pictures is representative of what many families are feeling.  The graduation exercise provides the opportunity for the expressions for all these emotions.

As I glance back at these photos, I see a serious James (or Ricky, as my family affectionately referred to me) and his mom (Mary Lee Greer) walking arm in arm exiting the ceremony held in our little school lunchroom. My dad (William Greer) was behind us, we had just overcome many obstacles including poverty, reading challenges, and speech issues to name a few. This was a serious and emotional time for our family because we had just pulled-off my mom’s vision of me graduating from high school.  

Another picture more clearly represents the excitement we had as a family.  We were all dressed up in our finest clothes.  We were one family unit displaying the fun part of graduation – all smiles and laughter.  A chapter accomplished with the help of our little community.  Teachers and school leaders challenged me to stay on track.  Family members kept me from going astray. And a community provided a village approach to ensuring our success as a family.

Those emotions exist for families for many different reasons.  It doesn’t matter the reason because what is important is that families have the opportunity to celebrate, school leaders know they made a difference in the lives of young people, and a community can take pride, as a village, in helping students finish one chapter to begin another.

Therefore, as a school system we will determine the best time and method to appropriately recognize our seniors at this important juncture,  We are resolved more than ever to figure out how to make graduation happen.  Just know – We will, “Make this Happen.”  We will work to deliver a graduation exercise.  The exercise may be later in time or could be delivered differently, but parents, school staff/teachers, and our community will have a chance to celebrate the success of our seniors.  Seniors 2020 – this will be a MOCO moment.

Dr. James Woodard is the superintendent of the Morgan County Charter School system.

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