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Story: State Schools celebrate graduations

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There are common threads to every graduation – the tassels turned, the caps perched precariously, the procession across the stage. And then, always, there’s the undercurrent of pride that’s running through the crowd. It’s pride at what’s accomplished, and what’s been overcome.

That pride is particularly strong at the graduations of Georgia’s state schools for deaf and blind students – the Georgia Academy for the Blind, the Georgia School for the Deaf, and the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf.

These students are overcomers. They’ve reached a peak that has required enormous work, and deserves enormous celebration.

“You have had to overcome challenges not all face,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said to those students. “Because of who you are, you were able to overcome. Because of who you are, you are here today – and you are an encouragement to us. We look at you and see what we can become.”

Overcoming obstacles requires confidence, graduates at the Georgia School for the Deaf said.

“I used to lack belief I could be a successful deaf person,” GSD valedictorian Christopher Buczynski said. “But my teachers gave me confidence.”

Salutatorian Kylie McGeaughay agreed.

“My family found a special fit for me when they found GSD,” McGeaughay said. “I decided I wanted to see myself succeed.”

Overcoming also requires the collaboration of many – and that collaboration leads to success, said students and speakers at the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf.

“We are successful,” class speaker Erika Carrazco Estudill told her fellow graduates. “Here we are, about to start our new lives.”  

Overcoming also requires persistence.

“I found that on my worst day,” said Mark Brunner, the graduation speaker at the Georgia Academy for the Blind, “I couldn’t even come close to what my students faced.”

But that need to persist is never viewed as an excuse. It is, instead, an incentive to triumph.

“If you don’t think of yourself as disabled and unable, you can do anything you set your mind to,” said Ashton Young, GAB’s senior class president. “Being blind isn’t an excuse. Being blind just means we have to work harder and smarter – and I know we are strong enough to do it.”

At each school, hands waved or clapped triumphantly. Students cheered and clapped for their classmates as they made their way across the stage. Graduates filed out, gripping their teachers in hugs.

And the room was full of celebration.