Columbia’s Frederick H. Douglass High School celebrated its largest graduating class since the building reopened as a desegregated high school in the 1980s.
“This day, we celebrate the triumph and determination and hope of, hear this number, people, 72 graduates,” Douglass principal Eryca Neville announced to a roaring auditorium, packed full of proud family and friends.
“Our students have triumphed … You name the tragedy, they’ve triumphed over it,” Neville says. “Homelessness, poverty, changing jobs and working. Some of them have families they support and that they are part of beyond ‘teenage responsibilities.’ They have triumphed over it all. They fight daily to get done the things that they need to get done to make it to that next stage in life.”
As Columbia’s alternative education building, Douglass High provides nontraditional learning settings for students who are at risk. The students go to smaller classrooms and get credit for working. Teachers often have to pick up the students from their homes and help them secure jobs. To graduate Joseph Lavalais, Douglass has been more than just a school.
“I don’t have a teacher,” Lavalais said. “All of them is like family. Aunts, uncles. It’s really not a teacher, it’s just family. They all help us through storms, it’s just crazy.”
Lavalais says he hopes to join the U.S. Air Force next.
Neville is proud of the large graduating class, but said that Douglass administrators are now working to tighten their program even more.
“So we might not have the largest number again next year, but we’re looking at making sure we have a quality graduate who are ready for their next step in life,” she said.
Neville, who is finishing her second full year at Douglass, said the school owes its milestone this year to the work of the staff and support from the community.