COLUMBIA — When Tiauna Hickem took the stage in front of her class at Douglass High School’s graduation, she talked about self-empowerment.
“Your next step isn’t what your mom wants you to do or what your dad wants you to do; it’s what you want to do,” Hickem, 18, told the whooping crowd on Saturday morning.
Hickem’s mother, Tiffiany, 36, grinned and snapped photos of her daughter giving the senior address.
“I’m a proud mama. Yes, I am,” she told those around her.
Douglass’ 2013 graduation ceremony had more proud parents, family and friends than chairs to hold them all. They packed the aisles of Columbia College’s Launer Auditorium, jostling to snap photos and cheer on the 72 students in blue caps and gowns, the largest graduating class Douglass has ever had.
On stage, Principal Eryca Neville echoed the pride radiating from the crowd.
“Just like a proud mama, I couldn’t be more thrilled with this group of young people,” Neville said.
After the introduction, representatives from 14 community organizations invited graduates up on stage to receive awards and scholarships. Hickem received two scholarships of $1,000 each.
Outside on the lawn, after diplomas were distributed and tassels were turned, Hickem talked about how Douglass helped her achieve her own goals.
She came to Douglass her junior year after struggling at Hickman High School and found a new family of students and teachers, she said. She said her teachers encouraged her to do well in school and start writing poetry and volunteering as a nurse.
“They pretty much made me push myself to graduate,” Hickem said.
In the fall, Hickem will attend Lincoln University in Jefferson City. She wants to major in in health care management.
Neville spoke glowingly of Hickem after the ceremony: “Fantastic student. A lot of potential.”
But then, she had proud words for the entire class.
“They are overcomers,” Neville said of Douglass’ most recent graduates. “You put anything before them, they are tenacious.”
With her family gathered around her, Hickem hugged her two younger brothers, ages 17 and 13. She had some advice for them about making it through high school:
“Enjoy it, enjoy it, enjoy it. Do everything you can to get ahead and stay ahead.”