ROCKINGHAM — Small in size but large in support, the 19 members of Ashley Chapel’s Class of 2018 graduated Thursday evening to cheers, whistles and catcalls — all the things they tell audiences at other graduations not to do.
But that is what defines the graduates of Ashley Chapel Education Center: They’re not conventional, having come from other high schools in order to catch up, finish up and find support in their bumpy educational quests. (The 19th member of the class joined the group only Wednesday, for example.)
“It doesn’t matter where you graduate from — only that you graduate,” principal Kevin Mabe reminded class members before professing his love for them. His next quotation — one of a series he delivered in lieu of a speech — was even more unorthodox: “High school is like toilet paper. You only miss it when it’s gone.”
A handful of graduates and their families knew just what Mabe meant about unusual paths, though — how students who sometimes call themselves “ASG” for “ain’t supposed to graduate” somehow find the motivation to succeed.
“These 19 people are going to change that (label) tonight,” Mabe said forcefully before wishing the graduates health, happiness and the desire to always do their best. He was met with cheers and wide, wide smiles.
Valedictorian Cha-leyshia Bowman said before the ceremony that “at first, I thought it was a bad thing” to come to Ashley Chapel, the district’s so-called alternative school. “This school, it kind of like has a reputation.”
What she found, though, she said, were helpful and caring teachers, one of whom spent a good deal of time helping her apply for and get into N.C. A&T State University, where she will study nursing.
Part of the audience, the family of graduate Alazia Patterson, sat halfway back in the auditorium, wearing identical white T-shirts featuring photos of Alazia’s life — not to embarrass her but to show their pride, said mom Harriet Patterson.
When Alazia won the $500 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship to pursue her nursing studies at Richmond Community College, they cheered proudly as she walked serenely to the stage in high, white heels.
Outside after the ceremony, Wysdom Heard sniffed back tears as her family continually reassured her, “You made it; you made it.”
“I’ve had a long journey to get here,” Wysdom said, weeping, as her dad waited patiently to snap a photo. Next fall, she said, she will enter Sandhills Community College to study culinary arts.
But perhaps the most accurate comment on the mood of the evening came from an anonymous voice in the crowd, who called out cheerfully mid-ceremony.
“Yes, baby. Y’all worked hard,” she cried. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]