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The Hernando High Class of 2016 makes a promise and puts it in writing.
Published Nov. 15, 2012

Hernando High School's Class of 2016, the current freshman class, gathered in the school auditorium early one recent morning to make a commitment.

They put it in writing, each student pledging to stay in school and graduate.

On the stage, several seniors addressed the younger students, passing along their wisdom about staying the course.

Seventeen-year-old Chandler Ross' topic was the "high school experience," which she explained was "working hard when it's time to work hard and having fun when it's time to have fun."

Jesse Ramirez, 17, told the students they are going to have to be aware about graduating early on.

"You have to stay on top of stuff," Ramirez said.

He admitted to having a low grade-point average as a freshman, though he has since brought it up.

Tracy Echols, executive director and president of Communities in Schools of Hernando County, offered assistance to the students to help them stay in school and out of trouble - mentoring, tutoring, food, clothes - whatever they may need.

She pointed out the different pay scales among dropouts, high school graduates, college grads and those with master's degrees or doctorates.

"Education is your key for life," she said.

Senior Brent Culpepper, 18, talked about taking pride in finishing school.

"My freshman year, I didn't get to sign a pledge. Take pleasure in your accomplishments," he said.

He offered his personal help, as well.

"I am here for all of you," he said. And he assured the freshmen they had no reason to fear him because he is a senior. "I'm not going to trash-can you."

Alexandra Rey, 17, senior class president, BETA Club vice president, National Honor Society vice president, School Advisory Council secretary, yearbook editor and chief and Student Government member, talked about getting involved.

"You make friends. You get so many opportunities, and it makes you a more well-rounded person," she said.

Instructional coach Erin Courtney, freshman class sponsor, also encouraged the students.

"You want to be the person who's on track to graduate," she said. "The teachers here that you have are more than willing to help you."

After the speakers, the students filed up to the stage to sign the C2G (Commitment to Graduate) banner, which will be displayed throughout the year as a reminder to the students about their promise. They also shook hands with principal Leechele Booker and assistant principal Lorenzo Fields. The freshmen walked off the stage with another reminder to graduate: wristbands - "visual, personal reminders," Booker called them.

Freshman Brianna Dokter, 14, exited the stage, wristband in hand, and shared what she took away from the presentation.

"If I don't get good grades now, I'm going to have a really hard time doing band and keeping my grades up," she said.

Freshman Justin Williams, 14, remembered what Ramirez had said at the beginning of the assembly, about how low his GPA was and how he raised it. Williams said he wants to graduate and attend college.

Jamal Mention, 15, heard that story, too.

"What impressed me is how you have a 1.7 GPA and how you push yourself and push yourself to improve your grades and get where you want to go. If they can do it, I can do it," he said.

Mention hopes to play football at Florida State University.

Dylan Wilson, 15, liked hearing about the experiences of the seniors, especially Ramirez's work raising his GPA and Rey's school involvement. Wilson is quite sure he will graduate and already has goals.

"I plan on going into the Air Force Academy and becoming an officer and pilot," he said.

Fields, the assistant principal, said he is hopeful the program will help lower the school's dropout rate.

"I think it's good for them to set a goal and make a commitment to somebody else," he said. "They're in for the long haul."