CONCORD -- It was a day of song and celebration at the Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center in Concord Wednesday. Forty-five students received their high school diplomas or GEDs. Many plan to head to community colleges or four year universities in the fall. Other graduates plan to hit the work force.
During the graduation ceremony, Linda Hayes, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention gave the commencement speech.
"Many of [the students] have had brushes with the law. Some of them have had education problems. This is a big accomplishment for some young people who have been through a number of trials," said Hayes.
Some students have lost their parents and look to the teachers, counselors, and administrators at Stonewall Jackson for guidance and support.
Phillip, a Stonewall Jackson graduate in the class of 2011, said the road hasn't always been easy.
"I know before I started getting in trouble, there were periods where I was really depressed, really low on self esteem and I started getting in trouble. Coming here, I realized I didn't have to be someone that people liked,” said Phillip.
Phillip also said Stonewall Jackson teachers and counselors offered him and other students an individualized education. Through small class size and internship opportunities, the staff members have helped build student confidence.
Stonewall Jackson administrators say they are so proud of the students' achievements. Dr. Joe Sutton, Superintendent of Schools for the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, says these students have worked hard to overcome trials and tribulations.
"We have some of the neediest children in the state. The fact that we are celebrating the graduation of 45 of our youth here at Jackson Youth Development Center, thrills my soul," said Sutton.
Of the 45 graduates, 15 walked during the ceremony Wednesday. Many other Stonewall students performed during the ceremony, telling their stories through musical interludes and rap. They say the road ahead is one of hope.