Documentary series. As the school year ends, the class of 2016 walk across the stage and into their new lives.
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If I had to describe OW in one word -
a real diamond.
-Over the top.
Oh, my God.
This ain't no fairy tale high school.
This ain't no fairy tale story.
Everything is real here.
Class of 2016!
At OW, see black people 98% of the time.
You shared pain, you shared tears,
we are lifelong friends forever.
-'Teachers, please close all doors.
'We are in an active hall sweep.'
I'm a senior and it's make-or-break time for me.
I'm about to get ready to leave high school.
Y'all going to jail, cos y'all in a stolen car.
Come on, Rah-Rah!
All right, I love you, brother.
I'm so proud of you, because I know that you have overcome obstacles
to make it to this day.
And our prom king is...
What you doing?
We don't win no games, we can't get no scholarships.
Although he have a child, he still is going to go to college.
Julio Johnson going to my home school.
Congratulations on your admission to the University of Florida.
I want to go out of state.
Getting into college and being able to pay are two different things.
I failed it, but it's OK. I tried.
You have to be responsible for you!
When are you going to learn this is not cool?
Somebody has to say, "This is not right."
The decision to resign from OW is one of the most difficult
I've ever made.
I am so frustrated that we have so many children from
the same socioeconomic background and we're told to educate them.
Not only educate them, but make your test scores better,
lower your drop-out rate.
One person can't do it all.
I want to make constructive change happen to education
and I shouldn't have to leave OW to make that happen.
I should be able to make it happen within my own school.
I have serious concerns about how this is going to affect the school.
MUSIC: Respect by Aretha Franklin
It is a lot of pressure.
Once I graduate, I'm getting out of Dodge,
which basically means I'm getting out of Orangeburg.
Hey, hey, hey.
Pull your pants up, there.
From now until the end of the school year,
I have to find a way to motivate them to get through graduation.
We can never take it lightly.
SCHOOL BELL RINGS
No matter what it look like, no matter what it...
Students who are not going to graduate?
We have about 22 of them and, erm...
Yeah, thank you.
I've notified all of them.
Mm-hm. That's definite kids.
..who are aren't going to graduate?
Do you know why we have so many, then?
Mr Lewis's class, Math...
I wanted to give you an update on Vernon.
He's on the list with Mr Lewis and that class.
If he fails that class, he doesn't graduate?
We got to figure out what we're going to do to, kind of,
I guess now maybe give them something.
Yeah. Figure out something with
that, because it's a lot of kids in there, so...
-We'll get on it, OK?
When you think about graduation, we have to remember what's at stake.
In America, unfortunately, to be young and black is one strike.
To be young, black and uneducated is two strikes.
And to be unemployable is your third strike.
SCHOOL BELL RINGS
I see some calculators on the
desktops, they need to be in your bags.
OK, Mr Lewis, I need to talk to you, cos I know my grade in this class,
so I was just trying to see if I can, like...
Come on, now!
It's coming off the wall now. You always sitting on it the whole time.
I was just wondering if I can re-make up some stuff tomorrow,
-before you leave?
-You better come early.
Yeah, I will come early. I'll come and do it tomorrow...
-Your grades are due tomorrow.
So I can get my grade up.
I'm trying to get up above a 60, cos Miss Thing said I'd be
-straight if just get it up above the 60.
Yeah. I got a 56 in here.
So, I need this class to graduate.
That's right. You need this class to graduate.
Vernon is kind of up and down. Some days he's serious about work,
other days he's kidding around,
playing and not doing what he need to do.
He just puts off and keep puttin'
off and just doesn't come back in to do the work.
Hopefully, he'll come in tomorrow.
I have like a week, actually.
Everything has to be turned in by when school get out.
The pressure is on.
I'm just going to
like, work, work, work, work, work, work until that deadline.
Where are you guys at with your college acceptances?
See, I decided to go to the University of Florida,
but it's, like... It's not the cheapest, OK?
So how much does that add up to?
I would pay about... Well, tuition is about 42,000 a year.
That's not guaranteed, that's just projected.
So, you're going to have, like, 80,000-100,000 in debt.
It's a little problem.
How is it adding up right now?
You have how many scholarships?
At least 1,000 from church.
-And so the rest you're going to get in loans?
It seems like people don't want me to go there because
they're worried about the financial burden that I'm going to have.
So the people that don't want you to go to Florida State, like what...?
They want me to try and stay in state
because it's cheaper.
The thing that really stressed me out is the fact that I have
to raise, like, thousands upon thousands of dollars
and I have never acquired this much money in my entire life at one time.
Seriously, just tell me what you think I should do.
I think you should go to University of Florida because that seems like
it's pretty much the only school that you were like die-hard, "I want to go to this school."
I mean, it's going to be tough, but you can do it.
You're a superstar.
She probably more tired than anything, though.
She probably just wants some sleep right now.
And how are you holding up?
So what's the plan now?
We thank you for the day and ask for your blessings upon this meal.
We take it as a nourishment for our bodies.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
Amen. Where's your food?
You know what would be a good idea?
Is just planning ahead for the future.
A dollar a day.
-Don't you agree?
So you going to start putting a dollar a day away?
I'll go out to pick some cotton and have you help.
You told me to focus on school work.
I've been in South Carolina almost my whole life.
I kind of want to branch out...
..see the world.
Oh, what's this?
The engineering buildings at colleges are always so cool.
Florida is a place that has a lot of opportunities and
I just feel there would be a good vibe of people there.
I just think it's going to be so awesome.
I'm ready to go.
I was trying to get her to stay in state,
like University of South Carolina, but she didn't want to do that.
She wanted to get further away.
I don't want to go to a school
because it's convenient and because it's cheap.
I want to go there because of the academic reasons,
I want to go there because of
the opportunities that I won't get at other schools.
I'm not going there for convenience.
I've been going to Orangeburg because of where I live.
That's convenient. I'm not trying to do that for the rest of my life.
Sometimes you got to try and reach
for those dreams that seem out of reach.
I don't want to drive six hours.
One or two hours is all I want!
But looks like I'll have to drive six hours.
That's fine too.
Even if I have to stop and take a nap along the way.
SCHOOL BELL RINGS
-'May I have your attention?
'If you haven't picked up your graduation gowns,
'please do so today.'
This should be his fourth year that he has to have.
He's not here yet.
-'Teachers, please close your classroom doors.'
He is nowhere to be seen.
What about your maths class, dude?
Oh, my gosh!
I forgot about that!
Good to see you, good to see you.
I just wanted to catch up with you on a few things
as you get ready for graduation.
Everything is set for graduation May 28th.
Yeah? And then what are your plans?
OK. You've taken the ACT, you've taken the SAT?
Sign up now.
You need to get that, all right?
I'm wondering why you haven't done all that stuff?
I mean, nobody's been pushing you to do this?
But you want to leave Orangeburg, you want to get away?
-You want to go away to school?
I think you need to get hungry, man.
I can see it going one of two ways.
He's going to go to college and he's going to finish and he's going to
take very good care of the mother of his child and his baby.
The other way is not go to school and try to find a job
and he'll be in a position that he would probably be searching
for a job for the rest of his life.
SCHOOL BELL RINGS
-'Jalena Jones, please report to the main office immediately.'
Hey. Miss Johnson got her hair done.
-You doing all right this morning?
I know it seems a little tense.
I brought Dr Peters in and Miss Harris,
but the numbers are in and we've done our calculations and...
..you are number one.
Oh, my Lord.
I am valedictorian right now.
This is significant.
You are graduating number one in your class,
so wherever you go from here, you take that with you.
This is no small feat that you've accomplished.
Your mom, she's watching, you know it.
But I want you to also know that your mom is very proud of you
and so are we. All right?
-Yes, sir, thank you.
-Continue to work hard.
See you later. All right, I'll be right there beside you.
My mom didn't get the chance to go to college or whatever.
I'm trying to be like the one to go to college, finish it,
get a good job and take care of everyone and stuff like that.
I feel like I'm alone because I don't have nobody being like,
"Did you do this today?"
And I think I need that tough love
in order to make sure I get things done.
You're by yourself.
Came in this world alone, leave this world alone.
I really do feel like I won't be able to graduate this year.
What if I'm really stuck here in Orangeburg like my mom and my aunts
that could have went out in the world
and did things and been successful,
don't have to worry about their kids struggling or anything like that.
That's what makes me sad, that's making me angry,
because I don't want to feel like that at all.
It always comes back.
-'It's 14 apiece. Man, this is tight.
'Close to quit of play...'
'Number 17, Kordel Johnson ready to receive.
'Number two quarterback.
'Lets loose, it's long. Johnson in the end zone! Touchdown!'
Been four years, man.
College, it's not going to be easy, I can promise you that.
But you know... You got the 'tude to get it done,
so just get it done, man.
You always told me that you played with a chip on your shoulder.
Yeah. A chip is a good thing.
A real good thing. Keep it there
because whenever you start thinking that you've
already arrived, you know, you fall.
And you don't want to do that, so, that's a good thing.
I don't know if you know, but I never met my father in my life.
So, like, when I came to OW,
y'all took that role because, you know, y'all care,
even when I got in trouble and the teacher called, you showed up,
you showed me you cared.
Even the punishment on the field showed me that you cared.
You wanted me to better myself.
So I just thinking that, you know, you was like a father figure.
I didn't really know what your relationship was with your father
but all I knew was that I been taught that if you going to coach kids,
you've got to at least show you care about them.
I've got something to prove because I'm a product of you, Coach Brown.
I'm one of your players.
I've got something to prove.
You don't want to let nobody down.
Especially, I want to make your name sound better.
-COACH BROWN LAUGHS
-Ain't gotta worry about that!
Just be yourself. You'll be fine.
It's the person I'm trying to prove it to,
my father. You know, why he not here?
Why he never came to see me?
18 years, man.
I know the last two years he'd have heard about me.
I've been in the paper a bunch of times so I know he's heard about me.
I've been on the radio. I've been everywhere.
I know he heard about me so I had something to prove, you know?
The reason why he should never have left.
Because I know who my real fathers are,
the people that have actually been there for me.
SCHOOL BELL RINGS
This is crunch time.
-This is your future.
-That's why I'm trying to stay as focused as possible.
Stop trying. Stay focused.
Do it. The time for trying is over. You're not a child any more.
You're a young adult who is getting ready to go out in the world,
continue your education, get a job, and make something of yourself.
All right. I like that just now.
I feel like you put something in me, like...
"Don't try, just do!"
That's right. Do it.
-'Administrator needed immediately to the gym by the lockers.'
INDISTINCT REPLY ON RADIO
'We've got a 10-83 in the common area. 10-83.'
'10-4. I'm on my way.'
Let's go. This whole area needs to be cleared.
Let's go. Get back to class.
I ain't talking to myself. Let's go.
OK, we need to pull the cameras and get some licence plate numbers.
We need to identify who those cars belong to.
We are not amused.
'All radio holders please assume your duties.'
Did the balloons they dumped have water in them?
Some did, some didn't.
How many people, do you think? Five, six...
-12, 13, 14.
-That's Rendull, isn't it?
Wasn't that Rendull?
He has a baby, getting ready to graduate
and this is how he spends his time.
-We've got two kids hurt.
One just had surgery.
Her mom is going to be livid and I don't blame her.
The Sheriff's department is ready to come to your house to get you.
And I asked them to let me handle
what happens with you and the rest of the people that
came into school with you.
'I ain't never been in no cafeteria.
'You can send the cops in, but I didn't.'
You didn't have to go in the cafeteria.
We have you on camera coming into the school spraying a water gun.
And the school was trashed.
The best I can do for y'all today is to keep y'all from going to jail.
Y'all need to be up here at school at 8:30
to meet with me in the morning.
'OK. I swear to God, we going to be there. 8:30 on the dot.
'We going to be there.'
-I want all of y'all in the auditorium.
-'We going to be there.'
All right. 8:30.
Meet with me in the morning and I want the mommas and the children.
I have to do four to six weeks' worth of work in two hours.
I won't be able to graduate because of this.
'What is the probability that Claude will choose the red socks twice?'
All right. I'm not sure.
-We're going to try it.
-'Got to disagree with you there.'
The correct answer is actually 1/25th.
Dang, that's what I did wrong.
I added it instead of multiplying.
'Are you ready to go on?'
Yes, I am.
'What's the probability of Claude choosing the red socks
'on his first pick?'
-I got the answer.
-'Regretfully, that's not it.
-'The answer you should have got here is...'
I did not know I had to go to work today.
Huh? I didn't know they had me on the schedule for today.
I will probably be there at 6.30.
Probably. Or later.
I'm doing my work right now
so I can finish my class so I can graduate.
If it don't work out, I tried.
I tried. That's one thing I got to say.
-Hi, Ms Middleton?
-'This is her.'
-Yeah, Dr Peters at OW.
-How are you?
-'I'm fine and you?'
Not so good. Rough day today.
'What's going on?'
Rendull and about probably 15 other seniors
came into our school today at lunchtime
while the children were eating, the ninth graders,
and they came in with masks over their faces and hoodies on
and guns shooting water.
So we have two children in the hospital right now.
I talked to my deputy and his first reaction was
that somebody was coming in to rob the school
and when he saw the bandannas, his hand went for his gun.
This could have been a very ugly situation.
-And I have no idea what he was thinking.
So what we've decided to do is
to tell them they can't come to any more senior activities
and they will not be marching on Saturday morning.
-They will not be marching in the graduation ceremony.
I am begging you, I am telling you straight up,
I am begging you when you get home today that you sit your son down
and you tell him that today is the deciding day for him.
He's going to have to decide to go one way or the other.
He has a baby.
That little girl, I told him months ago, when that child gets here,
she's going to change you.
And that change day is today.
And if he doesn't change, Ms Middleton,
I'm telling you I really have
concerns about what's going to happen to Rendull.
-Sorry for the call.
-All right, bye-bye. Bye-bye.
I've never written a speech before.
I want to write something inspirational,
not just something that makes people go to sleep.
I want people to actually pay attention.
This is for, I think, the spelling bee in, like, fifth grade,
Some of them are martial arts trophies.
And this is my mother's Navy cap.
..she died when I was seven years old.
She liked to laugh and she was very pretty.
She was shot and killed by one of our relatives
while my siblings and I were at school.
When my mom died, it made me a stronger person.
It made me realise that it's OK to grieve
but it's not OK to let the grief consume you.
I let the memory of my mother build me into
a stronger person.
Any time I feel like I can't do something,
I know that she's there encouraging me and I know that with her help,
I can do it.
Girls! Move, now!
-'If anyone has a visual on student Rendull Middleton...'
'He was in the gym.'
All right, guys, start moving.
It got real. Everything that we worked for, gone down the drain.
HE CLICKS FINGERS
INDISTINCT CHILDREN'S VOICES
All right, so I'm going to say good morning even though it's not
a good morning for me.
We are seniors getting ready to graduate. 17, 18-year-olds.
What 17, 18-year-old plays with water guns?
You need to be playing with your future.
So y'all work for 12 years to have an opportunity to walk across
the stage and get your diploma, but instead you want to play.
-We just, you know, wanted to have a senior prank,
have a little fun, run in, run right back out.
We wasn't even planning on running all around the school,
going in classes tearing down stuff, that was not the intentions,
it was just to boom, just with the water gun and come back out.
If we would have known it would be this deep, this right here,
we didn't think it was going to go this far but it did.
I don't think you had any intention of anybody getting hurt.
-But there are people who kill people and go to jail for life
who had no intention of harming anybody.
While y'all are running through the building at OW spraying water guns,
you got white kids all over America trying to figure out how they're
going to get paid
and how they're going to retire at 50 years old.
You need to start focusing on the things that really matter.
Right now we've got 13 of our African-American males from OW
in jail, incarcerated.
One thing can change the trajectory of your life, one thing.
One mistake, one bad choice can change your whole life.
Don't get it twisted. You don't get to load up on mistakes and say,
"I'm young. Young people make mistakes."
-I'm Rendull's mom.
As a parent, hear me out for a minute.
We worked hard to get our kids
to this point, yet they chose to make a bad decision
and did what they did yesterday.
You want to let one day ruin their whole life?
No, they are children, you understand what I'm saying?
They are 17, 18-year-olds.
Yeah, they supposed to know but they ain't at that age yet where they
know everything. No, they know better than to bring water balloons.
Don't y'all? Y'all know better than to bring water balloons in the
-building, right? Right?
All right, then, this is y'all graduation and y'all chose to make
a dumb decision so y'all need to make it right.
Y'all are leveraging right now what your families did for you.
Those of you who are here...
..you're going to march on Saturday morning.
You're going to march.
And I'm going to tell you why you're going to march.
Because of your mamas...
..and your daddies and your families.
That's why you're going to march.
Make it count.
Make it count.
All right, let's go to the gym.
All right, you're welcome.
You try to do something, just a life lesson, you live and you learn.
# Everybody get in the groove
# And let the good times roll... #
'Another beautiful weekend in store
'and a big one for senior students at Orangeburg Wilkinson High School.
'Saturday is graduation day.
'You ARE going to make your families and the whole town so proud.'
# Time don't mean that much to me... #
We're not in high school any more after this.
It's time to just...
put on your big boy pants, buckle up and...
# Get in the groove and let the good times roll... #
Life is not a walk on Gold Street.
You're going to have a bunch of things that come at you...
..and I'm going to try to make the best out of every opportunity.
I'm just looking at it...as half-full.
# All night... #
I ain't worrying about college at all.
I done seen the worst of them do it, so I know I can do it.
-Where are you thinking of going?
So it's just a matter of time.
# It might be one o'clock and it might be three
# But I don't care cos time means nothing to me
# I ain't been swinging since I don't know when
# And I might not be swinging this way again... #
# Ooh, ooh, ooh-ooh... #
I just want to let you know that I completed everything online...
..and this boy right here going to walk across the stage
-You are done!
I'm so proud of you, Vernon.
-I'm so proud of you.
-And I wanted to let you know because I know you're
-going to be proud of me.
-I'm very proud, I'm more than proud of you.
-We got a graduate right here, 2016.
-He's come a long way.
-A long way.
A long way.
Hey, when you come across that stage Saturday - dignity, dignified.
I know you're happy but be dignified.
I'm going to try to keep everything...
You promise me you'll be dignified.
Vernon, Vernon, look at me.
-I can try...
-No, no, no, no, no.
-I can try!
Vernon, please be dignified.
-I'm so excited.
-Yeah, but you can be excited, but be dignified.
-I promise I'll be dignified.
-Because a high-school graduate
is now a mature person.
-You walk up that stage with your shoulders back...
-Chest looking up high.
-No, not like that.
Vernon, listen to me.
Be dignified. I'm proud of you.
I'm so proud of you. Gimme something. All right, man.
I don't know if I can keep that promise, though.
It's kind of like a bittersweet moment because I'm going to miss
high school, I'm going to miss coming here,
joking around with my friends
and then at the same time I can't wait to leave Orangeburg.
If you're going to come over here to the US and you're thinking,
"Oh, it's going to be champagne,
"wining and dining on the side of a pool or the beach." No!
You got to work to get to where you got to go.
You got to work to get to where you want to be.
Like me now.
I feel like my future holds a whole lot for me, like,
it holds a whole lot.
TRAIN SIGNAL RINGS
Did you want...?
Oh, baby, this is it.
I'm not going to cry because you're going to be right in my back yard
but I tell you one thing,
don't bring your clothes home.
So what's on your mind?
You know, you've always been there through the thick and thin and when
y'all there, I play ten times better than when y'all not there.
I do this for you, I do this for me,
I do this for everybody in the family.
It's not just me.
When I wear Johnson and when I wear it on my back, you know,
it's not just Kordel Johnson, it's the Johnson family,
everybody in the Johnson family.
And you already know that.
Some bad napkins.
Any time you want a male point of view...
..you got your brother, you got your uncles.
They'll step right on in and fill in that little gap...
..that you, you miss somewhere down the line.
You were, like, stronger than I thought you would be
and I'm proud of that.
But, I mean, you really put it out there because you made it.
Some things you have to do on your own.
I got you. I'll get it done.
That's what I'm trying to do.
Y'all be good. Be good.
Be good. For my next assignment,
I have an opportunity to pursue my dream of leading a school district,
of being the superintendent of that district.
My influence will be broader and I'll be able to do more.
I'll get to talk about policy and influence more students...
..more teachers, more principals.
Take care. Take care of yourself.
I will, I will.
It's the last day that I'll ever do cafeteria duty.
This spans 36 years,
three decades of watching students,
making sure they're safe, doing this...
..and this is the last day.
These are great kids.
And I'm going to miss them.
-Going to miss y'all.
-I know, I know.
Y'all be good.
I am leaving 1,200 amazing human beings.
I will never forget them.
-I'm going to miss you.
-I'm going to miss you too.
The school that refused to quit.
SCHOOL BELL RINGS
So, when she lost her mother,
when she went into martial arts and anything else, I would tell her,
"Make your mama proud."
I would say, "Your mother's going to be there with you."
So everything was on the basis of her mother was with her...
..watching over her.
I feel proud, but...
..life goes on.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
It is my distinguished honour to welcome all of you
to the commencement service for the class of 2016.
And this is the time for us to receive our applause.
Kordel Jermaine Johnson.
Vernon Stevens Jr.
Karen Kalil Ryan.
CHEERING DROWNS SPEECH
Please turn your tassels to the right
so we can deem ourselves
graduates of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.
My fellow graduates,
we have finally made it to this extremely important milestone
in our lives.
Graduating from high school is not the end but only the beginning.
I challenge each of you to use your wisdom to dream and pursue
I dare you to defy the odds and defeat any obstacles which may
stand in your way.
I know a little bit about obstacles.
When I was seven years old...
..my mother died.
And nobody expected me to do so well in school,
let alone be valedictorian of the class of Orangeburg-Wilkinson.
-I cannot go through my speech
without mentioning my mother.
Because she has been with me all of these years and I carry her
within my heart and I'm so proud of you because I know that you have
overcome obstacles to make it through this day.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Graduating top of my class,
going to college in the fall, I'm just, like...
..following the American dream right now!
Oh, my goodness!
It is the end of the school year, and Orangeburg-Wilkinson is still reeling from Dr Peters' news. With just a few weeks to go until graduation, a number of seniors, including Vernon, are still at risk of failing. Can he improve his grades in time to graduate?
Following the birth of his daughter, Rendull is adjusting to fatherhood, but a mistake puts his chances of attending graduation in jeopardy.
Star pupil Jalena continues to struggle to find the funding to attend university and has the responsibility of writing the senior's graduation ceremony speech.
As the school closes for another year, the class of 2016 walk across the stage and into their new lives.