KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Most students spend their school years studying for tests, listening to lessons and socializing with classmates. But at Austin East Magnet High School, this past school year has been filled with tragedy after the deaths of five students.
For many graduates, walking across the stage and taking their high school diplomas was a somber moment. Yet, was also filled with celebration as the Class of 2021 also looked back on their accomplishments.
"I'm also excited to make it out,” said Jayla Walker, a graduate.
Students capped the milestone by walking out from the football field, high school diploma in hand. The ceremony included a cultural dance and performance band, singing them out.
"I thought it was wonderful,” said Shunta Wilson, an aunt of a graduating senior.
Even as they celebrate their accomplishments, some students may still need overcome grief from losing their classmates. Organizations in the community provided counseling and support to help cope with the losses.
“It was stressful, very stressful. There's no other way to describe it,” said Erica White, a graduate.
But through it all, for the students and their loved ones, Friday was a happy day.
“It feels great, I love it. It feels good to let your kids walk across the stage because they could've been doing anything else,” said Lolita Wilson.
A diploma isn't all the students will be leaving with, either. Many will finish high school with a bigger bank account.
Overcoming Believers Church donated a $37,000 check to the Class of 2021, and Pastor Daryl Arnold said the money will be evenly distributed to the graduates at the ceremony.