Photo collage of the Summer Commencement Ceremony

Summer Commencement celebrates students who refuse to give up

Sept. 15, 2022 – “Many of you are here right now because you didn’t give up!”

This was the message given to the more than 20 Team Duval graduates on Sept. 8 as they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas during the Summer Commencement ceremony this month.

While the standard graduation ceremonies are in the spring, the Summer Commencement ceremony recognizes students who didn’t have enough credits to graduate in May but refused to give up.

Rather, they enrolled in the district’s Summer Credit Acquisition Program so they could earn the remaining credits they need before June 30, which is the official end of the school year.

Zartaesia Davis is one of those graduates. Like many of her fellow graduates, The Raines High School alumna says she faced personal challenges that slowed down her academic journey.

“The main struggle that I dealt with was when my best friend died in 2020,” Davis said. “I really wanted to drop out of school because I couldn’t focus.”

Davis said the death of her friend – due to gun violence – made it hard for her to make school a priority. It set her back.

That’s where the Summer Credit Acquisition Program comes in. The program is just one part of a year-long program that supports students who are behind in the credits they need to graduate. 

Social studies teacher Reginald Benyard is one of several educators who assist students in the program. He said it serves as a safety net for students while providing them with credits where they fell short.

“We do know that many of our students face a number of problems throughout the school year,” Benyard said. “Many of them are working. Many of them are maybe taking care of their families. So school may not be a priority.”

This includes summer graduate, Lily Hocker, who says that school took a backseat for personal, social, and medical reasons. She said she could not even visualize herself as a high school graduate. At the same time, she did not want to fail.

So through the Summer Credit Acquisition Program, Hocker gained the needed credit to graduate and was able to walk across the stage last Thursday to claim her diploma.

“I’m here and I did it,” Hocker told Team Duval News after the ceremony.

Benyard said witnessing these students’ accomplishments is the reason he became a teacher.

“You want students to gain the necessary skills and be prepared for what is out there in the world,” Benyard said. “Without a high school diploma, there’s very little that you can actually do.” 

Davis said she wants to become a Technology Engineer. Her best friend would have been proud of her, said Davis.

“He would have said, ‘You go girl, you did it!’” said Davis.

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