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20 grads receive court-officiated commencement

June 04, 2014 | 09:59 AM

Kaycee Miller donned a crisp, white cap and gown as one of 20 graduates at the Harrison County Alternative School graduation commencement ceremony last Wednesday.

Miller said she could not believe she was graduating high school, something her mother never did.

Kaycee Miller shows off her diploma from the Harrison County Alternative School to a family member following last Wednesday's graduation ceremony. Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor
"I am going to CNA in nursing," she said. "My mom was a CNA nurse and she passed (away). I want to pursue her career and her goal that she had set for herself in life."

Miller's vision for her future had grown cloudy as the "dramatic," he-said, she-said atmosphere she was surrounded by became too distracting when she attended North Harrison High School.

"There was just too much of that going on, and I didn't want to be around it anymore," Miller said.

After transferring to Harrison County Alternative School, she said she was able to concentrate on her studies in a more focused and helpful environment.

"The teachers there are really cooperative with you, and they try their best to work within your limits," she said.

As she received her diploma during a ceremony in the third-floor courtroom of the Harrison County Court House, a voice called from the audience, "There's my princess." Her eyes brightened and her smile widened. She was officially a high school graduate.

"I was like, 'Geez, I made it. Look where I am now. Look what I just did'," she said. "I think overall (high school) was a good experience for me. It was an adventure. It was fun but scary and dramatic at the same time. It was a cool experience."

Miller was joined by her grandmother and the rest of her family.

She said she knows her mother would be happy for her.

"She would have said, 'Good job, baby'," Miller said.

Last week's graduates came from North Harrison, Lanesville and Corydon Central high schools and earned a total of 356 credits.

Harrison Circuit Court Judge John T. Evans began the ceremony and led the room in a moment of silence, in which he asked everyone to consider the people who helped them get where they are today. He then introduced the guest speaker, the 106th Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court and military veteran Steven David.

"Failure is an event; failure is never a person," David said in his commencement address in which he gave the graduates 10 "quick suggestions."

Do your best every day, treat everyone with respect, work hard, be a good person, be humble, be yourself, have fun, do what is right, never sell yourself short and take care of yourself and those around you, he said.

David also announced his telephone number, advising the graduates to seek his counsel in times of need.

Shelly Abel, director of the alternative school, said later she was concerned the students might lose interest during the ceremony, but, as she watched their faces during David's speech, she said she knew they were truly "hearing" his message.

"Having the Justice come and speak was amazing," she said. "It was absolutely amazing, and the graduates really seemed to pay attention."

Even though Abel, who was named to succeed Debbie Heazlitt as the school's director in October 2013, had only worked with the students a short time, she has seen the students overcome many obstacles to be able to graduate.

Many of the staff have worked alongside some of the graduates for several years.

"We are so proud of all of them," Abel said as she began to tear up. "They got to see it. They got to see what they had been pushing all those years for."

Graduates received gift bags and handcrafted Zimmerman Art Glass paperweights, signed by Kerry Zimmerman and swirled with their school's colors, as gifts.

"I was amazed at how good the sponsors felt about the kids that they wanted to support them," Abel said. "The community was very supportive. The businesses in the community, there were so many that donated to the gift bags that the kids received."

Gift bags included a variety of goodies such as coupons to local restaurants, cave passes, golf passes, microwave popcorn, toothbrushes/toothpaste and paint-ball passes.

One company donated tassels since some of the students did not get to walk at their own school's graduation ceremony.

Abel said, as far as she knew, students unable to walk with their classes did not get a ceremony like this in past years.

"There were no negative comments (about the ceremony)," she said. "One lady said, 'Thank you so much for doing this for my grandson.' He was one of the ones who couldn't walk with his class."

Emotions flowed and the room filled with expressions of gratitude and congratulation as graduates celebrated with family, friends and staff following the ceremony. They also were treated to an array of donated snacks, drinks and finger foods.

Abel said only one man, a board member of the alternative education center, approached her with a concern:

"I only have one problem with the ceremony today," the man said. "You have really set the bar high for next year."

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    Is this really all that there is?
    June 08, 2014 | 12:55 PM

    At first sight of this article I was appalled. The other high schools from Harrison County graduated in the same time as these "students" and gained no front page article. ... In my years of being a student at North Harrison, I have had no such (disciplinary) problems because I actually go to school to learn, not to socialize or cause trouble. I actually color in the lines and follow the rules. … After that the part about someone yelling during the graduation "'There's my princess'" miffed me. A graduation is supposed to be a time of respect for the those graduating, if these "students" even deserve that. It is not a time to be yelling from the audience.
    … I just about laughed at the next part. When the Justice came to speak for the commencement, Shelly Abel, director of the alternative school, was "'concerned that the students might lose interest during the ceremony.'" These "students" are all adults, and she was concerned of them (losing) interest. Any person with any form of respect for others would know to be considerate when someone with as busy a schedule as Mr. David, the 106th Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, was speaking. … The next part is revolting to me though. "Graduates received gift bags with handcrafted Zimmerman Art Glass paper weights..." and " Gift bags included a variety of goodies such as coupons to local restaurants, cave passes, golf passes, microwave popcorn, toothbrushes/ toothpaste, and paint-ball passes". Why were they given gifts … ? None of the students at the regular high-schools … got anything besides the diploma ... Our society has it wrong when students that follow the rules set out by our society and succeed through their own efforts do not get rewarded. No, our society rewards those that do no conform and have to get shoved through high-school to "graduate." The Valedictorian was not given anything, not even so much as a piece of candy, let alone a hand-made Zimmerman paper weight. The Valedictorian was just expected to do well in school, pay attention, and be a responsible adult. ... I think people need to take a hard, long look at what we are really doing ... This is my point of issue with this article.

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