Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Cody Bowles, center, tosses his cap into the air with other seniors at the end of Archer High School's commencement ceremony on Wednesday. The 112 seniors who walked for their diplomas mark the school's first ever graduating class
LAWRENCEVILLE -- If someone had told Claire Thomas 14 years ago that she would graduate from high school as the valedictorian of her class -- well, she probably wouldn't have cared.
She was only 4 years old, after all.
During her graduation Wednesday evening from Archer High School, Thomas said her parents never would have believed she would be delivering the valedictorian speech.
That's because Thomas had undergone three years of chemotherapy and other treatments for leukemia, and doctors warned her parents the medication could cause her daughter to develop learning disabilities.
Fortunately, the medication didn't affect Thomas' academic ability, and she was able to stand with Archer's inaugural class as a cancer survivor and the valedictorian.
About 100 students graduated from Archer, and family members and friends packed one side of the school's stadium to cheer on the teens.
"You students took the lead and decided to be in the very first graduating class of Archer," Gwinnett County Board of Education member Carole Boyce said, "and that is something that will never, ever be taken away from you. ... You have made Archer a wonderful, wonderful institution already and one that's only going to get better."
Charles "Buck" Buchanan, the school's principal, said the commencement ceremony was another milestone in the school's history.
"We have had an awesome school year filled with memorable firsts," he said.
Courtney Mulkey, the salutatorian, said graduation is a bittersweet time. She said she's sad to leave the school and her teachers but excited to begin the next phase of her life.
"The next chapter of our lives has already begun," she said. "Let's remember to be thankful for the authors of the last chapter of our book and get ready to begin our next story."