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State schools celebrate graduations

Last Friday in Macon, and last Thursday in Clarkston and Cave Spring, the air was electric, as it is at all graduations. 

As ceremonies unfolded at the Georgia Academy for the Blind, the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf, and the Georgia School for the Deaf, you could feel the anticipation buzzing through the air. The future is almost physically present, something with real matter and weight, in a room full of almost-graduates. 

You don’t need to see the clapping, or hear the undercurrent of noise, to feel it.

Last week, Georgia’s three state schools graduated a total of 43 students – each of them a fighter. 

Each room of graduates last week was a room full of overcoming.


At the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf, a small school off a quiet road in Clarkston, and at the Georgia School for the Deaf’s green, pastoral campus in Cave Spring, the ceremonies unfolded not just in words but in moving hands. Guests who weren’t fluent in sign language listened to speaking interpreters, but they learned quickly, when it came time to clap, to abandon the typical smacking of palms for a gentle waving of fingers in the air.

At the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf, valedictorian Jesus Alberto Ontiveros urged his classmates to move forward.

“Please,” he told them. “Do what you dream of.”

Commencement speaker MeLisa Dennis signed encouragement to the graduates, nudging them toward all the overcoming ahead.

“When people tell you that you can’t, because of this or that,” she told them, “you remember that I told you, you can.”

At the Georgia School for the Deaf, students donned yellow and green caps, hand-decorated in paint and glitter: I did it. Thanks, mom and dad.

Commencement speaker Mike Glenn, a former NBA player and basketball analyst for Fox Sports South, signed his address. His father was a teacher and coach at GSD and he was standing, on Thursday, in the gym where he learned to play basketball. As he left the stage, he bent his middle and ring fingers and extended the others out – the sign for “love.”

Speaker after speaker reminded the students not to let their hard work end on the stage.

“Great things are expected of you,” State Board of Education member Larry Winter told them, “because you are a great woman. You are a great man.”

Before the graduates made their way across it, the school’s DeSign choir filed onstage and signed the lyrics to Katy Perry’s “Roar,” a moment Principal Leslie Jackson noted later in the ceremony.

“They have the eye of the tiger – the GSD Tiger, right?” she said, referencing the school’s mascot, and her nine graduates. “Today, you have heard them roar.”

On display at the Georgia Academy for the Blind a day later was the essence of school as community. It was there in the teachers and principals gently adjusting graduates’ tassels, in the encouragements to the ceremony’s student speaker, in the strains of songs sung by the school choir.

“It is a milestone day,” 2014 Georgia Teacher of the Year Runner-Up David DuBose said in his commencement address. “It is a day that you’re going to remember for a very, very long time.”

As each graduate made their way across the stage, the front rows – the other graduates – erupted.

“Good job, buddy!” one student cried as a fellow graduate made his way across the stage.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

2014 Georgia School for the Deaf Graduates:

Jerry De’Angelo Blackmon

Nestor Armando Cacho Ramirez

Min Sun Kim

Lee Khang

Joshua Louis McTaggart, Valedictorian

Chantel Maree Owens

Ieshia Marie Pugh

Edward Bernard Snipes, Jr.

Cassie Danielle Worthy

2014 Georgia Academy for the Blind Graduates:

Jakai Santrell Blackmon

David Lee Brown

Victoria DeAnn Durham

Lynsy Erin Floyd

Alexandria Shay Gooch

Alexis Dechele Griffin

Jade Katherine Keller

Laté Giresse Lawson

Teenois Tois Lawson

Darrius DeAndré Mayes

Canaan Gray McCormick

Sarah Leigh Pergola

Michael Tyrell Ross

Katelin Brenachele Sinkfield

Mariya Krasimirova Vasileva

Jonathan Dustin Williams

Isaac Malik Wilson

Johnny DeShone Youngblood, Jr.

2014 Atlanta Area School for the Deaf Graduates:

Crystal Deyanira Cruz Cabrera

Xylinda Ona Collins

Xylonda Rea Collins

Joshua Thomas Grant

Pierce Edward-Arien Jackson

Julio Cesar Marcial Reyes

Marvin Marquez

Ezequiel Mixcoatl Zecuatl

Jaquisha Deshunt’a New

Jesus Alberto Ontiveros, Valedictorian

Leonard Peduri

Nathan Ryan Phillips

Oscar Alejandro Sanchez Pacheco

Hugo Humberto Soto Sanchez

Alexander Francis Valdez

Cecilia Vega Jimenez​