ELYRIA — Members of one of the largest classes at Life Skills High School received their diplomas Friday, marking the last time there would be Life Skills graduates.
The school will become Black River Career Prep High School next year. Crystal Garmon, principal of the school, said that’s part of what makes this class special.
Students are enrolled throughout the year at Life Skills.
“This is a powerful group of young adults,” Garmon said. “Each one has gone through something that has made high school a little harder — or a lot harder.”
The class of 44 graduates is fully accredited and can apply to any four-year university. Garmon said they should be able to do anything.
Heather Wardrop, the student speaker for the class, said she failed eighth grade twice and was feeling discouraged.
She reunited with her father, who later took his own life. Before he did, she said, she promised that she would finish her education. She completed high school in one year and seven months.
Wardrop said she was worried about how her anxiety would affect completing her high school education, but she said staff at Life Skills encouraged and supported her.
“I know my dad is proud of me,” she said.
Frank Whitfield, independent candidate for Elyria mayor and former CEO of the Lorain County Urban League, was the commencement speaker.
Whitfield told the class some of his own background. He left college after his first year with a 0.7 grade-point average and three arrests.
He said he had hit rock bottom but started his journey back up when he went to church with his mother on Mother’s Day.
“The beauty of rock bottom is there’s only one place you can go,” he said.
Whitfield said that the strength to overcome is already in all of the graduates because of the hardships they’ve already endured.
He said he re-enrolled in college.
Whitfield said he visited New Orleans 18 months after Hurricane Katrina and saw a lot of similarities between that area and Elyria — except no storm had hit Lorain County.
He said he began speaking out about the struggles in his community and decided that he needed to work harder than everyone else to silence those who thought he wouldn’t make it.
“I did that by doing the most,” he told the graduates. “My charge to you is do the most.”