Whale Branch Early College High School is about to celebrate its first graduation. Organizers say it will closely resemble other Beaufort County commencement exercises.
With one big difference.
They're expecting a crowd of more than just relatives of graduates.
"I've been out and about in town, and people have stopped me on the street and said, 'I'm coming even though I don't have a child at that school,'" guidance counselor Geri Henderson said. "We're expecting an extremely large crowd."
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Henderson said community members have told her they're proud of the school, and they want to celebrate the students' hard work.
A committee of about 10 staff members and representatives from the parent-teacher organization has been planning the June 7 graduation for five months. Assistant principal Chad Cox has been a big help, Henderson said, because he assisted in graduation plans at Battery Creek High School when he worked there.
The details for Whale Branch's first graduation are much the same as for any high school. Steps have been taken to ensure preparations stay on schedule, and the staff has received its robes.
Henderson said officials worked with the school resource officer to provide security and have organized the event's program. The valedictorian and salutatorian will deliver a speech, and the school's band and chorus will perform. One more meeting is planned to discuss the last few details, Henderson said.
Students graduating with college credit, including those who earned degrees or certificates from the Technical College of the Lowcountry, will be listed on the program and recognized formally in the ceremony, Henderson said.
Students headed to college or the military -- about 80 percent of the 130 graduates -- also will be recognized.
Like every graduation, it will be bittersweet for the students and the faculty. Henderson said she gets the sense seniors don't want to leave. At a recent awards ceremony, they lingered at the school until almost 10 p.m., she said.
"It's like they don't want to go," she said. "They've fallen in love with the school. ... It's a sanctuary for them. They know that can come there, and people will care about them."
Though she's sad to see the students go and knows it will be an emotional day, Henderson's looking forward to a bit of a break.
"It's going to be hard. But I told (principal Priscilla) Drake that on graduation day after they call the last child's name, I'm running to the 50-yard line with my pillow, and I'm taking a nap," she said. "Wake me up the next morning, because it has been two years of giving it my all."
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.