Cleveland City Schools Director Dr. Martin Ringstaff said the dinner was a time to recognize the best of the best.
“These are some of the greatest students to ever walk the halls, and some of the greatest teachers who have ever been in Cleveland City Schools, as well,” Ringstaff said. “This is a time to give back. A time to pay it forward, if you will.”
Tuesday night marked the second annual Graduates of Distinction dinner. Students with a 4.0 or higher are invited to both receive and present an award. Each student selects a teacher who had a major impact on their K-12 career. A one-page essay is then written and read before the assembled crowd. Teachers are given both the essay and award by the student.
Administrators took the time to offer words of honor to the gathered teachers and students.
“We wanted to thank all the students. … You spent four years making nothing but straight A’s. That is an achievement. That is awesome,” Ringstaff said. “Teachers deserve to be honored, as well. You obviously went above and beyond your subject matter.”
Teachers stood beside their students during each speech. They came up with their distinguished graduate to listen before being honored. Some smiled while others fought off tears. All appeared humbled.
The students and their teachers included: Carly Morris, Mr. Frank Lear; Andy Patel, Mr. Tom Cloud; Christopher Hughes, Mr. Brad Benfield; Jasmine Martin, Mr. Frank Lear; Michael Kanarski, Mr. John Brose; Abi Dye, Mr. Steve Stephenson; Kelsy Wofford, Ms. Carole Dale; Luke Shattuck, Mr. Renny Whittenbarger; Atarah Abdulla-Muhammad, Ms. Julie Phillips; Grant Currin, Ms. Athena Davis; Beka Day, Ms. Patty Puckett; Carolyn Cao, Ms. Laura Gheesling; Olivia Hysinger, Ms. Julie Phillips; and Justin Jones, Mr. Casey Price.
CHS Principal Autumn O’Bryan said she thinks of the dinner as a kickoff to the celebration season.
“I am really glad to take a moment to pause on the most excellent of excellent students we have at our school. I am really proud of all of our students who are here tonight. Of course, they all hold a special place in my heart,” O’Bryan said.
She mentioned the 14 students might once again be honored in 10 to 12 years through Cleveland High’s Hall of Fame.
“We are really excited to see you go out and change the world,” O’Bryan said. “We are thankful to the students who have worked hard and who have had such great academic success at Cleveland High School.”
Guest speaker Carl Hite, Cleveland State Community College president, took a page out of Ringstaff’s and O’Bryan’s book. He offered his congratulations to students, teachers and parents.
He shared several pieces of advice with the soon-to-be high school graduates.
“I think what has made this country as strong as it has been in the past, is we had our best and brightest apply what they learned,” Hite said. “It is not about what you know. It is about what you do with what you know.”
Continued Hite, “…You will do things which will impact change in this world for the better. I had an opportunity to talk to some of you, and based upon what you want to do, you will achieve more. This world still has a lot of room for improvement.”
“… Do what you want to do, not what someone else wants you to do.”
Each student relayed glowing reviews of their specially chosen teacher. Several said it was difficult to narrow down the search to just one. More than a couple referred to their teacher as their friend. Olivia Hysinger said she was looking forward to graduation as it would allow her to call Julie Phillips her friend.
Michael Kanarski said John Brose was his mentor, motivator, soccer coach and friend.
“Coach Brose was my mentor and I knew I could come to him with anything. He would listen and he would not pass judgment on me no matter the situation,” Kanarski said. “He gave great advice throughout my high school career. One of them is, ‘Leave it better than you find it.’”
Kanarski said the advice helps him on a daily basis.
His peers shared funny memories, like Andy Patel’s recollection of Tom Cloud giving out Little Debbie snacks in the fourth grade.
Others had to fight off tears while reading their essays.
“It is evident he genuinely cares about each of his students, and his helpfulness has made a lasting impact on me,” Carly Morris said. “… He has helped prepare me for my future. Not only for my upcoming college courses, but also in the way I think, act and treat others.”
Ringstaff closed the evening out with another round of thanks to the parents, students and teachers.