On Friday, June 4, the first annual Graduation Festival was held at the Armory. In the midst of the smiles, waves, and congratulatory hugs from families, friends and community members were the eager, confident and ready-to-face-the-world Warren County High School 2021 graduates, Semaj Alexander, Jada Chase, Jade Chase, Omar Crews, Chanta Cooper, Nyla Crudup, Torrey Davis, Evelin Sorto, La’Niyah Hargrove, Cameron Hogan, Json Richardson, Joey Richrdson, Se’Quan Seward and Christopher Williams.
In addition to the love, best wishes and other recognitions, each graduate received a $25 gift card, a senior wrist band, and a discount card to shop with onsite vendors selling at the festival.
The 2021 Graduation Festival was developed by R.H. Greene Funeral Home and the Warren County Health Department. Larry M. Jones, Jr., office manager/funeral director apprentice, was excited about the opportunity to recognize the graduates. Jones stated that because of the Coronavirus pandemic, graduations and celebrations had become limited, and in some cases, not happening at all and last year, during the pandemic, two alumni of Warren County Schools, Shondra Jordan and RocQuan Perry, started the “Adopt-A-Senior Project.” The festival is an extension of that project.
While enjoying the festival myself, there was a common thread that I noticed immediately and became excited to explore and hopeful that this might be a new trend, that many of the festival developers and vendors were also Warren County High School alumni. So, I asked Jones, Jr., a 2001 graduate, why he decided to return to Warren County, such a small rural area to live and work after graduating from college. He said, “The African proverb states it takes a village to raise a child. I wanted to return to the village that gave me my foundation and help my fellow man.”
The Warren County Health Department, which is led by Dr. Margaret Brake, 1983 Warren County High School graduate, played a major role in the development of the festival as well. While on site, the health department highlighted upcoming Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine dates. Since the event focused on teens, I asked Dr. Brake about teens getting vaccinated. She stated that the Warren County Health Department does not offer the vaccine recommended for teens. She said they refer teens to other providers such as Maria Parham Health, Walgreens/Henderson, and the Vance County Health Department. The good news is that according to Dr. Brake, local providers are currently offering other Coronavirus vaccines to people 18 and over.
I also asked Dr. Brake how Warren County stands currently with the citizens being vaccinated, and her news was awesome and extremely encouraging: 43 percent of the population (8,485 people) have had at least one dose of the vaccine and 40 percent of the population (7,835 people) have been fully vaccinated. If you would like to get vaccinated, contact your local health department. Dr. Brake also highlighted another project that she is very proud of: Bright Ideas, a curriculum featuring an educational comic book which talks to kids about COVID-19.
There were many vendors onsite with lots of tasty foods, T-shirts, jewelry and skin care products; however, three vendors stood out because they, too, are graduates of Warren County high schools. Jeanette Henderson, Novelties by Nette, Marlo Daniel Alston, Graceful Buttah, and Renata Alston, who describes herself as a nurse by day and an entrepreneur by night, took great pride in their self-made businesses and in being a part of the festival.
Warren County Manager Vincent Jones attended the festival along with many other county officials, and I had the chance to ask his views on the opportunities extended to young people who decide to make Warren County their home after high school or college graduation. Mr. Jones stated that opportunities can be boundless in the county, and the county is working hard to make sure residents have an environment they are proud of. Vincent Jones added, “We don’t have all of the jobs needed, but we are feverishly working to make sure some of the jobs are here and to make sure they are prepared when they leave.” They, referring to graduates who decide to leave the county upon graduation, as he touted the support the county offers the Warren County School Board through financial funding to make sure students are provided a quality education.
It was nice to be able to gather together to recognize students who have reached such a well-achieved, memorable milestone, and judging the atmosphere, all will look forward to attending next year’s festival.
Other sponsors were Dr. Clara Powell Davis, Chris Privett Construction, The People’s Choice Florist, Dr. Ray and Carolyn Spain, Rho Tau Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., along with Blaylock Funeral Home, WCTS/NWHS Alumni Association, Attorney Hassan Kingsberry, Dr. Cosmos George, Warren County Community Center, CandLCatering, Ajbriac Chase Foundation, and Vivian Lynch.
T.A. Jones is a freelance contributor to The Warren Record, and the author of “The Parent Push, Helping Your Child Succeed Through High School and Beyond,” and “A Summer With No Ice Cream.” To contact her, visit tajones.org.