Jashuna Richard, a 2013 Ombudsman graduate, sings the national anthem during Wednesday's commencement. Photo by Brandon Powers

Jashuna Richard, a 2013 Ombudsman graduate, sings the national anthem during Wednesday’s commencement. (Photo by Brandon Powers)

On Wednesday evening, May 29, nine students received an honor that many of them were never expected to earn…their high school diploma. These students were part of the Valdosta Ombudsman Education Center, which provides an alternative learning program for at-risk students whom, without this opportunity, might have never received their diploma. This year’s Ombudsman graduating class of 2013 includes: Kristopher Brown, Yasmine Countee, Ramesh Houston, Callajeno McIntyre, Dorian Neloms, Jashuna Richard, Darius Robertson, Robyn Surface and Jamarcus Thomas.

The commencement ceremony began with Jeffrey Amos, the Center Director, leading the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. Jashuna Richard then performed a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem.

Arnold Wright, Operations Manager, then welcomed the audience to the 2013 Ombudsman graduation. Wright offering words of encouragement to the graduates, saying, “This is a monumental event for these young ladies and gentlemen. We call this a graduation ceremony, and we also call it a commencement. Graduation indicates the ending of one educational career. It’s been a long journey to get to this point. Commencement indicates the beginning of something new, and that’s where these young men and women find themselves now. This graduation ceremony is something that you have worked a long time for and I am proud to be a part of it.”

Motivational speaker Mizell Williams speaks to the Ombudsman Education School's class of 2013 during Wednesday's commencement ceremony.

Motivational speaker Mizell Williams speaks to the Ombudsman Education School’s class of 2013 during Wednesday’s commencement ceremony. (Photo by Brandon Powers)

Following the introduction came the presentation of awards by Dr. Amelia Shaw, an English instructor at the center. The first award was the American Citizenship Award, which was presented to Dorian Neloms for his positive contributions to the school and the community, and also his willingness to do for others. The next award was the President’s Award for Educational Excellence, presented to Callajeno McIntyre, Deandra McMillian and DaShina Redding for their dedication to learning, hard work and consistent effort.

Inspirational and encouraging words were then offered by guest speaker, Mizell Williams. Williams spoke to the students of the importance of knowing their natural abilities to succeed, keeping toxic people out of their lives and reminded them to always stay driven and have courage. He asked the students to repeat after him, “I am somebody. No matter what my future holds I will be successful because I know. I feel. I am.”

The student speaker for the ceremony was Jashuna Richard. She spoke of what graduation meant to her and the challenges she faced along the way, “It wasn’t easy, but I made it through. There were a few stumbles here and there, but after all that I made it through and I am very excited. In my opinion, Ombudsman is a great school because they gave me a second chance. A lot of people won’t admit it, but Ombudsman saved me.”

Operations Manager Arnold Wright welcomes Ombudsman's class of 2013.(Photo by Brandon Powers)

Operations Manager Arnold Wright welcomes Ombudsman’s class of 2013.(Photo by Brandon Powers)

Joseph Wood, a math teacher at the center, then spoke for the Ombudsman faculty. He congratulated the Ombudsman class of 2013 by saying, “You have come such a long way in a short amount of time and today we honor your accomplishments. Through your hard work and dedication you have proven that you can take a long term goal and turn it into an achievement. Good luck, I am sure all of you guys are going to do just fine.”

Following the ceremony, Director Amos said of the graduates, “This has been one of the most rewarding years of my career…of my life really. Just working with these kids and seeing that we really made a difference in their lives. This diploma is really a great thing for them. The kids were really great and they came in with a positive attitude. They worked really hard and I must commend them on the hard work that they did.”