Making moves toward unity
May 24th, 2013
01:27 PM ET

Grads leave lasting legacy: Integrated prom

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - On Saturday, 68 seniors will graduate from Wilcox County High School in South Georgia, leaving behind a legacy that could last long after they’ve said their goodbyes: Next year, for the first time, their high school will host a prom.

It’s a new tradition in their small rural community, one they hope will eliminate their county’s custom of private, racially segregated proms.

A small group from 2013’s senior class sparked the idea of an integrated prom this year, bucking 40 years of high school tradition.

When their county’s racially segregated schools combined in the early 1970s, the school called off its homecoming dance and prom; it was a volatile time at the newly integrated school, alumni said, and parents and school leaders were wary of black and white students attending the same dance. Like in many other Southern communities, Wilcox County students and parents stepped in to plan private, off-site parties, complete with formal gowns, tuxedos, DJs and décor.

But long after outward racial tension died down, the private, segregated parties in Wilcox County remained - a quiet reminder of racism, students said.

This year, a few white and black seniors organized a prom open to all Wilcox County High School students, whether white, black, Latino or Asian.

"If we're all together and we love each other the way we say we do, then there are no issues,"  integrated prom organizer and Wilcox County senior Mareshia Rucker said during the dance in April. "This is something that should have happened a long time ago."

Their campaign drew international media attention and an outpouring of online support and donations of money, prom dresses and DJ services. It also drew some criticism from students and parents who liked the old tradition, and community members who worried about the negative light cast on their small town.

Scenes from Wilcox County students' first integrated prom

Regardless of the ups and downs, students said, they would have preferred an official school prom instead of a private, integrated event off-campus.

Next year, it’s happening.

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Filed under: Georgia • High school • Prom
May 24th, 2013
10:11 AM ET

Homeless teen graduates as valedictorian

(CNN) - Chelesa Fearce is the valedictorian at Charles Drew High School near Atlanta, Georgia, but it didn't come without a fight. The 17-year-old and her family have been homeless for years, living out of shelters, cars and occasionally short-lived apartments while her mom struggled to keep a job.

But Chelesa would crack open books at the homeless shelter and read against a cell phone light, she told CNN affiliate WSB. She's graduating with a 4.46 GPA, and is heading to Spelman College in the fall with enough credits to be a junior.

Her advice to students? "Do what you have to do right now so that you can have the future you want," she said.

From scrubbing floors to Ivy League: Homeless students heads to Harvard

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Filed under: Awesome • College • Graduation • Students
May 24th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Going to school, instead of work

CNN Films' "Girl Rising" documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world. Watch June 16 on CNN

By Betsy Anderson, CNN

(CNN) - Purnima lives in Nepal. She wants to be a nurse. But because she is a girl instead of a boy, she is more likely to go to work than go to school.

In Nepal, government schools start charging tuition in the sixth grade. But Purnima was selected to be part of the Girls Education program with the nonprofit Room to Read and was able to continue her education.

"I am the first person getting an education in my family and my brother and sisters did not get the chance due to our family background ... we are from a poor family so we cannot afford to go to school," says Purnima.

Purnima lives with her family in a room above the carpet factory where her older sister works. Her father is paralyzed. Her mother became blind when Purnima was 2 years old. All her siblings stopped going to school after the fifth grade.

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Purnima is 17 and has just finished secondary school at the top of her class. In fact, she was at the top of her class every year.

Purnima is about to start two years of Nepal's post-secondary school and she plans to go on to college. For a long time, she wanted to be an eye doctor. Now she says she is going to be a nurse and she may have a good chance to do just that. According to Room to Read, about 76% of its graduates go on to some kind of university, college or vocational training after secondary school.

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