“I’m so excited! I have been waiting on this day for a long time.” Brianca William’s reaction mirrors those of her Cobb Horizon High School classmates, who also walked across the stage to accept their diplomas during the school’s inaugural graduation ceremony.
About 41 students turned their tassels December 17 at a ceremony held at McEachern High School in celebration of not only their own hard work but also the work of the Cobb Horizon staff. In total, more than 50 students graduated during the fall semester.
“Congratulations to the graduates. All your family and friends that are here tonight are here because of your accomplishment,” Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said during the ceremony. “Your determination to this point is what is going to take you further. I want to thank all the family and friends that are here because your support is what helps the graduates every day and pushed them to be able to graduate.”
Cobb Horizon first opened its doors to students in August. The new high school is the result of Oakwood Digital Academy and the Cobb Performance Learning Center (PLC) merging into one school.
“We are not a traditional high school. All our kids have a story. They have faced trials and adversity of some sort,” explained Cobb Horizon Principal John Kelly. “The [Cobb County School District] is committed to keeping Cobb Horizon a small individualized environment. I think we are on the cutting edge of doing things.”
Brianca is one of those students who had to overcome challenges in order to graduate. That’s what brought her to Cobb Horizon.
“When I was moving from a lot of different schools, I lost a lot of the credits that I needed. I didn’t want to give up on myself so I kept pushing myself forward,” revealed Brianca, who started at PLC.
Fellow graduate Barry Holland began his path to graduation at Oakwood Digital Academy but is happy that he was able to finish his high school track at the new Cobb Horizon.
Barry’s work at Cobb Horizon earned him the school’s first Defying the Odds award.
“I was a drop out for two years,” he confessed. “I left my homeschool and did nothing for two years. It wasn’t until I saw my friends walk the stage at their graduation that I was like, ‘I made a mistake.’ I was determined to find a solution to the mistake I made.”
He credits his success to his teachers who didn’t let him give up.
“I have to thank my teachers. They weren’t just teachers. They didn’t give off that vibe. They felt like humans, like friends that you could count on to be there when you needed people to be there,” the Cobb Horizon graduate said with praise.
Like many of the graduates who ran to hug their friends and family, Barry hoped that he had made his dad proud. He described his dad as his biggest supporter, which is one of the reasons Cobb Horizon staff work to build relationships with the parents, in addition to the students.
The staff knows how much the diplomas mean to the parents, some of whom were never able to earn a high school diploma of their own. The parents can celebrate not just that their sons and daughters are high school graduates, but that their children are also prepared for their next step in life.
“We have a graduation coach that not only helps students plan on how to get a diploma but also what does the next five years look like,” Principal Kelly explained. “A big part of what we are trying to do at Cobb Horizon is to make sure to help the kids figure out their purpose and where they want to be.”
Barry wants to go to college and pursue a career in welding. Brianca aspires to open her own business after going to cosmetology school.
Both graduates have advice for those students who are facing obstacles and are looking to Cobb Horizon for help.
“It is going to be terrifying. There is no doubt about it, but at Cobb Horizon you have a team of people who are going to do everything they can to get you to walk that stage,” Barry said encouragingly.
Here are Brianca’s words of wisdom to the younger versions of herself.
“Don’t give up on your dream. Keep going.”