Stories of sheer willpower characterized the fourth graduating class from the Ombudsman Center as 43 students received their high school diplomas Monday evening at Athens State University.
The class featured at least three seniors from each of the Limestone County high schools — Ardmore, Clements, East Limestone, Elkmont, Tanner and West Limestone.
Clements senior Brenna Norman battled back from a serious car accident a year ago that left her in a coma for two months, while two of her Ombudsman classmates overcame a lack of transportation to the center’s location in the Publix shopping center.
One student rode his bicycle daily more than 15 miles from West Limestone wearing a bright orange paintball vest loaned by Ombudsman director Heather Brown, and another walked several miles each school day from Capshaw.
The beaming students wore caps and gowns in their school colors and sat among more than 200 friends and family in the packed and sweltering ASU ballroom. At least 200 more onlookers stood along the walls, in one of the three doorways or in the equally crowded lobby.
Elkmont senior Luis Leon, 17, who had 40 family members at the ceremony, plans to work in construction. East senior Shayquon Bradley, 19, is joining the Marine Corps, while Elkmont senior Christopher Boley, 18, plans to study welding at Calhoun Community College.
East Limestone senior Elijah Smith spoke to the class about succeeding in life, and predicted his classmates would look back on their time in the program with fond memories.
“I actually enjoyed school this year. Whatever you do, have a purpose and strive to be the best like Ombudsman taught us … we’re all going to look back and think these years (were) the best.”
Jasmine Alexander and Rebekah Kobeck of Ardmore and Tanner senior Kristopher Jamar won the President’s Award for Educational Excellence. Norman and East senior Molly Bates received the President’s Award for Educational Achievement. Elkmont senior John Wayne Todd, who strode across the stage wearing cowboy boots, collected the American Citizenship Award.