COLUMBIA — More than 400 friends and family members squeezed into Launer Auditorium at Columbia College to witness 42 Douglass High School seniors graduate Saturday.
The number of graduates this year is almost double the number of graduates from the previous year.
With so many graduating seniors, there were no seats left by the time the graduation began, and families crowded the back of the auditorium.
Despite the positive atmosphere of the ceremony, the class overcame challenges to get to graduation.
Douglass director Eryca Neville led the ceremony and commented on the struggles many of the seniors faced.
“Some (students) had to make great sacrifices and faced great challenges that would make others crumble, but they are still at Douglass High School,” Neville said.
Krista Ward, gave the senior address. Ward graduated through the Missouri Option Program, which allows at-risk students to work while they take classes to prepare for the GED.
Fighting back tears, Ward addressed her class by telling her story about her success at Douglass High School.
“This is a story of a girl that came from nothing," she said. “This school shed light on a girl that was afraid: afraid of change, afraid to trust and afraid of the future."
After Ward’s speech, 21 awards and scholarships were presented to selected seniors. The DeAudre Johnson Memorial Scholarship was created in memory of DeAudre Johnson, a Douglass High student who was killed earlier this year. Johnson’s family presented the award.
“I really think some of our kids have been inspired to do better in school because of the situation with DeAudre,” assistant principal Kerry Hesse said.
During the presentation of awards, families and friends of the recipients cheered loudly for each student, at times drowning out the names of those being called.
Even with the overwhelming excitement from the students and the families, some concerns still lie ahead for these recent graduates.
For this nontraditional high school, which provides an alternative for students who are at risk of dropping out, the goal of the faculty is to prepare students for the job market, Hesse said.
The primary challenge facing these seniors is the poor job market.
“Many seniors are going out looking for employment, and the fact that they are competing against adults who are also looking for work has been a struggle," he said.
Hesse said a higher percentage of Douglass graduates will be enrolling in college courses this year because of the job market.
"More and more students are showing that kind of dedication," he said.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.