In one of the most touching moments of WCHS graduation, senior B.J. Harrell was able to leave his wheelchair, walk across the stage, and receive his high school diploma Friday night at Nunley Stadium.
It was a moment Harrell had visualized for more than a year as he had been working with his physical therapist to develop the strength necessary to take the steps from his wheelchair to Director of Schools Bobby Cox.
“I am so proud of B.J. and the effort he put forth to walk across the stage Friday evening,” said Cox. “To shake his hand and see his face is something I will hold with me forever.”
Harrell graduated with a regular high school diploma and has no mental limitations. His mind is as sharp as any of his classmates. But as someone with cerebral palsy, Harrell has difficulty with his motor skills. This makes it difficult for him to talk and keeps him confined to a wheelchair.
Harrell provided just one of many emotional moments on a night where 435 seniors earned high school diplomas and gazed into an adult future which awaits.
James Shaw said his plans involve joining the family business, Shaw Equipment Repair, and getting it running at full speed.
Valeria Sandoval said she plans to attend college with hopes of becoming a psychiatrist.
Senior Mackenzie Miller has perhaps the most aggressive travel plans as she’s moving to Anchorage, Alaska.
“I’ll be joining my husband and attending the University of Alaska,” said Miller, whose husband, Cole is in the Army and currently deployed in Kuwait. “I’m originally from Michigan so I’m used to the cold. That’s what everybody has been asking me about.”
Fallon Fowler says the first step after high school is clear. “I’m going to enjoy the summer,” Fowler said.
Bailey Walker played soccer and softball at WCHS, but says athletics are not in her future in the fall at UT-Knoxville.
“I’d like to be a lobbyist in Congress because I never lose an argument,” said Walker, who added it’s sad to see her high school years come to an end. “I’m going to miss being in my comfort zone with people I know.”
Project Graduation followed the ceremony, giving seniors and their guests a drug and alcohol-free environment to celebrate their milestone inside the safe confines of McMinnville Civic Center. Project Graduation chair Michelle Lewis says 243 seniors attended the event.
“It was lots of food and activities and everybody stayed busy,” said Lewis, who added the event was trouble-free. “We had an officer there all night and he stayed pretty bored.”
Jason Gross of The Sound Machine served as DJ to keep it lively and seniors had incentive to hang around all night thanks to dozens of nice prizes. Among the items given away were 30 laptops, 25 TVs, 10 kayaks, and 10 iPads.
“We gave away prizes at 4 a.m. and most of the kids were gone by 5 a.m.,” said Lewis. “We stayed around and cleaned up after that and most of us were done by 5:30 a.m.”