May 22—ALBANY — It was a return to pomp and circumstance for some 650 Dougherty County School System students who were able to take part in graduation ceremonies over the weekend after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the events for the class of 2020.
Last year, ceremonies for Dougherty, Monroe and Westover high schools were held using a virtual format, with an event at the Albany Civic Center held later for the recent graduates.
For the graduation ceremonies held Friday and Saturday at the Civic Center, graduates were limited to four tickets each for relatives and friends to allow for social distancing. The numbers for the graduating classes were about 190 for Dougherty, 170 for Monroe and 285 for Westover.
"I couldn't be more proud of our graduates," Schools Superintendent Ken Dyer said. "They've remained focused and on track despite myriad challenges and obstacles.
"We've frequently said our goal is to prepare students for what comes next in life after high school. The Class of 2021 has shown that, regardless of the circumstances they might face, they are well-prepared for the next chapter in their lives."
The graduation ceremonies also were broadcast via live streaming and are available online for viewing for those who missed them over the weekend. To watch video of the ceremonies visit https://www.docoschools.org/Page/459.
For two of the students who were selected as speakers, the last two years of their high school careers presented challenges.
"It was really hard on me at the beginning," Westover graduate Reagan Bruce said of the pandemic. "My grandmother got really sick. That really affected me."
Like other students, Reagan did much of her coursework through virtual classes last year.
A dual-enrollment student at Albany State University, she said she spent hardly any time at her high school campus over the last two years.
"Those were not easy classes," Reagan, who earned an associate's in science degree at Albany State in addition to her high school diploma, said. "I had to put in the work, read my texts. I see the difference with not having a (in-person) teacher. Being virtual, I have to tell myself I have to be doing this assignment."
In the fall, Reagan said she will attend Tuskegee University with a Presidential Scholarship covering her tuition. She plans to pursue biology/pre-medical studies.
"There really wasn't a school in Georgia that caught my eye," she said. "When they offered me the full scholarship, I knew that's where I wanted to be.
"Me and my friends walked around Westover and we reminisced about all the things that happened since ninth grade. I'll be leaving all of my family and all of my friends."
Earlier in her high school days Reagan said she set the goal of earning a grade-point average higher than her three siblings, a goal she met.
For Davon Davis, valedictorian for Dougherty High, online learning also presented challenges. Davon, who was named his school's STAR student and also was a dual-enrollment student at Albany State, said he felt the impact of online learning.
"I lowered my confidence because I did not do as well as the previous year," he said. "I learned virtual learning is not for me."
After meeting goals he set six years ago to be a STAR student and valedictorian, Davis will attend Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla., in the fall with a full Presidential Scholarship.
Khalil Braswell was the salutatorian for Dougherty High, and twins Jaiden Brown and Jordan Brown were the valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, at Monroe.
As of Friday, the school system had not tabulated the total amount of college scholarships awarded to this year's graduating seniors, but the system noted that last year the total was in the millions of dollars for each of the three high schools.
"Graduating as valedictorian made me feel good that all my hard work and dedication had paid off," Davon said. "That was the goal I set for myself in sixth grade."
The graduate encouraged others to strive to achieve, referring to a Bible verse that states believing and speaking of a desired outcome can help make it a reality.
"Here I am, I made my goal six years ago," he said. "Because I said it and believed it, I made it come true."
Davon, who said he plans to major in political science after earning an associate's degree as a dually-enrolled student at Albany State, said he also will miss his friends when he crosses the state line to further his education.
"It is bittersweet," he said. "None of my friends are going to the same school. I made the decision early on that I didn't want to go to college in-state.
"I'm going to Jacksonville. I'm just excited to see what it's like."