The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

May 28, 2014

‘I regained my hope:’ Students earn diplomas through credit recovery w/VIDEO

Ombudsman Center graduates 44

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— High school graduations often are marked by memorable moments, whether it’s a keynote speech delivered by a famous former Alaska governor or Tanner’s tradition of lighting candles.

For the Ombudsman Center, its trademark is hosting a ceremony that highlights the unique challenges overcome by its grads while also providing plenty of levity.

The center, a countywide credit recovery program, had 44 students graduate this month. Some students also will walk with their respective high schools, having met the district’s requirements for a traditional diploma.

More than 30 chose to walk across the commencement stage Tuesday with their Ombudsman classmates in front of an overflow crowd at Athens State University’s Sandridge Student Center.

Jaythan Thatch, winner of the teachers’ “Most Perseverance” award, kept the crowd entertained with their sense of humor.

In his keynote address, Thatch said he quickly realized he didn’t want to dig ditches for the rest of his life, and that he needed a diploma to find better-paying work. He laced his speech with self-deprecating remarks and thanks for his parents’ support in spite of his decision to drop out of Tanner in 2011.

Trent Spidel, a tall Tanner senior, broke up the audience when he bent down to give Ombudsman teacher Pennie Davis a bear hug and an impish kiss on the cheek while collecting his award for being the “loudest” class member.

Ombudsman Director Heather Brown took to the podium to hand out the “senior superlative” honors, which ranged from best all-around Jason Malmberg from Elkmont High School to hardest worker Austin Powers from Clements High School.

Brown also read emotional excerpts taken from the students’ exit essays, which described their experiences with the program.

One student wrote, “Ombudsman has taught me to buckle down and finish,” while another stated, “When I came here to Ombudsman, I knew I could do it. I was told by my teachers I would graduate, and that was when I regained my hope.”