Photo: Andrew McMurtrie. Lanier High School graduates Zay Cooper, left, and Kevin Martinez celebrate in the Grand Ballroom at the Gwinnett Center after their graduation ceremony Friday in Duluth. Lanier opened in August and is graduating its first senior class.
DULUTH -- Initially, T'Arica Crawford didn't want to go to Lanier High School.
When the Gwinnett County Board of Education split the North Gwinnett cluster to create the new Lanier cluster, Crawford had to go to the new school because she rode the bus.
On Friday night, Crawford became one of the inaugural graduates of a school she learned to love.
"It ended up being a really, really good opportunity and a chance to stand out," said Crawford, who was the high school's first talent show winner.
At Lanier High, Crawford was part of a small senior class of fewer than 100 students. At North Gwinnett, she said there were about 900 students in her grade.
Lanier High School principal Kerensa Wing told the 64 graduates that they showed leadership and no fear as they helped set the tone and expectations for the new school.
Wing encouraged the students to pursue their dreams as they move on to colleges and careers.
"You all have dreams and goals, and tonight you've all made a step in the right direction to achieving those goals," she said.
History teacher Brooks Baggett told students not to be afraid to take risks as they move forward in life.
"Go forth with great passion and with unwavering work ethic and commitment to do your very best," Baggett said. "We're proud of what you have accomplished and awed by your future. Enjoy today, but keep dreaming for the future."
Sainabou Jallow, the class valedictorian, told her classmates their futures will be bright as long as they continue to believe in themselves.
"We can take on anything and adapt to any environment, because that's what we did at Lanier," she said.
Mitchell Walsh, one of the graduating seniors, said graduation was the highlight of his life so far.
"My whole life, I've been waiting for this one moment," he said. "This is the end of chapter one."
Graduation wasn't just a momentous occasion for the students. Family members cheered when the students walked across the stage in the Grand Ballroom at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth and beamed with pride.
Jacqueline Turner said she left her home in Gary, Ind., at 2 a.m. Thursday to see her grandson, Demetris Pyles, graduate. When his name was called during the ceremony, she had tears in her eyes.
"He made it," she said. "He made it."
Turner said Pyles was born prematurely, weighing 1 pound, 2 ounces.
"He stood the test of time," she said. "I see a very bright future for him."
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