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Thursday was graduation day for 201 Youngstown City School students attending East and Chaney high schools.
Families packed separate auditoriums to watch their loved ones walk across the stage. One-hundred and sixty-nine East High students graduated at Stambaugh Auditorium, while 32 Chaney students received their diplomas at the school’s auditorium.
Speakers at both ceremonies stressed that this was not the end, just the next step. For most students, it was a day they will never forget.
“I am like so happy I cannot even explain it. A dream come true. I did not think I could make it,” said East High School graduate Deontay Scott.
A classmate, Shannon, said the feeling was “overwhelming,” and although she was nervous, she also was happy.
“I guess words cannot express. It is just totally awesome to see them walk across the stage with the smiles on their faces. And know they have had the support not only from home, but the staff, the faculty at the school,” said East High principal Holly Seimetz.
This class of Panthers has been tested. Just a few years ago, they consolidated with another city school, but determination has helped this class get through.
“The kids have overcome so many adversities, so many problems. But they persevered and I give it to this group, they have really done a remarkable job and I am proud of this group,” Seimetz said.
And now the challenge for the students is the next step after high school. Some will be moving on to college and some right into the work force. But no matter what option they choose, community leaders hope they stay in Youngstown to help the city grow.
“There are going to be a lot of jobs here, I understand, so our job is to get these kids ready for those jobs. It would be nice for the kids to stay here,” said Youngstown City Schools Superintendent Dr. Connie Hathorn.
It was a sentiment echoed by their principal.
“Having our kids know they can stay right here in Youngstown and make it is a great connection for them since they are right here in Youngstown,” Seimetz said.
And despite the celebratory nature of Thursday, Hathorn said the district’s graduation rate is not where officials would like it.
Hathorn said they have made strides in the right direction and they have been working to find the issues the students have and work on them so the students can graduate.
“We have a lot of work to do. We have identified some students that need extra help. Even in the 11th grade, you start in the 11th grade, see where they have some trouble and get them ready for their 12th -grade year,” Hathorn said.
Seimetz said the students learn at their own pace and sometimes it takes them five years to graduate, but the important thing is that they do finish high school.