Graduation culminates 13 years of education and, for most students, is the natural transition to adult life and a career. Graduation is something that can easily be taken for granted.
Over 200 Eastside students will don green and white caps and gowns Saturday, including three graduates who had to deal with much more than classes and activities - Shaquanna Mitchell, Jayhmar Washington and Josh Hinchman.
Three years ago Mitchell arrived at Project Adventure, referred by the Department of Juvenile Justice after growing up in a drug laden and violent environment. Independent Living Program Director Dwayne Baker said education was the last thing on her mind.
"When Shaquanna arrived she was belligerent and violent toward the staff," Baker said. "This was a kid that cussed out administrators and didn't care about much, let alone school."
Project Adventure takes children from the DJJ and the Department of Family and Children Services and helps them through school. Students in Project Adventure must successfully complete a counseling program before they can attend one of the county's high schools, in this case Eastside.
Mitchell is an example of one student who turned her life around thanks to the dedication of Baker, the organization's director Cindy Simpson and a handful of steadfast individuals.
Baker said the organization takes on children when many other social programs either give up on or feel they cannot be successful with them. But seeing the three students graduate is the payoff the folks at Project Adventure receive for their dedication.
"In a case like Shaquanna, she had no hope," he said. "I think that's why she acted the way she did. But after some very hard work from our staff, but more importantly, by her, she turned it around. They all turned it around. We are always proud when we have graduates."
Washington, Hinchman and Mitchell will all receive diplomas on Saturday. A fourth student, Isaac Yates finished his coursework in December and also will walk with the class of 2008. Mitchell plans to attend Georgia Perimeter College in the fall and Baker said the future looks bright for each of the four students.
"It's great to see them have an opportunity to move on after college," Baker added. "We're talking about kids that were left alone.
"But now that they've accomplished something like this, they understand the sky is the limit."