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Jefferson High grads take divergent paths

May 30, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

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    SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Sierra Harmon, a Harpers Ferry, W.Va., senior who graduated summa cum laude from Jefferson High School on Sunday afternoon, is following her older sister to the same college in Idaho.

    Harmon was among 338 seniors who received diplomas in commencement exercises at the Butcher Athletic Center at Shepherd University.

    Harmon's sister is studying nursing, but Sierra plans to study social work because of her interest in psychology, she said.

    Harmon was part of a long, double line of seniors in a hall on one side of the gym waiting for the call to march inside. An equal number filled the hall on the other side of the gym.

    Three calm-looking pregraduates stood together across from Harmon -- Cora Smallman, Devon Thompson and Arielle Thomas, a close-knit trio of friends whose lives will soon be taking them in different directions.

    Smallman and Thomas have been together since kindergarten.

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Smallman will stay close to home when she enrolls in a nursing program at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Thompson plans to take African-American studies and play football at St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Va., and Thomas, who graduated summa cum laude, will study art at West Virginia University.

Sunday also held some meaning for Cindy Keller of Shepherdstown, who is retiring after a 36-year teaching career, 26 of which were spent in Jefferson County and 15 at Jefferson High School.

Asked if things were different at JHS graduations 15 years ago, she said: "You know what? Things are pretty much the same. Students make their way through high school, then they graduate. I teach at-risk students and most of my class is graduating today."

She did make one observation, in the area of decorum at commencement exercises, that has changed over the years: the behavior of parents.

"There's a lot more screaming," she said. "The students are better than the parents."

Sunday's graduates were about to enter their junior year at Jefferson High in 2008 when the new Washington High School opened. About half of the class, given the choice, chose to stay at Jefferson High to graduate with the classmates they came into the school with as freshmen.

Pete Dougherty, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, said "it's being looked at," when asked if future graduations would be held at Jefferson High, now that there is room in the school gymnasium.

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