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Charter school graduates 111 in inaugural ceremony

Staff Intern Photo: Kathy-Lee Cassie. From left, Josh Holley, Yoonji Ahn and Nikhil Lakhanpal give commencement addresses at Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology's graduation at Arena at Gwinnett Center on Saturday.

Staff Intern Photo: Kathy-Lee Cassie. From left, Josh Holley, Yoonji Ahn and Nikhil Lakhanpal give commencement addresses at Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology's graduation at Arena at Gwinnett Center on Saturday.

DULUTH -- For four years at Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, best friends Arleen Nicius and Amara Nnakwe pushed each other through endless nights of late studying.

After all the hard work, they celebrated Saturday at the school's commencement ceremony at the Gwinnett Arena, throwing their hats in the air and exchanging hugs with friends and family members.

They met at orientation at GSMST and have been friends ever since. Apart from becoming best friends, they said the best part of being at GSMST was the people and atmosphere of the school, which offers high-level courses such as engineering applications and advanced calculus.

GSMST is a charter school with a curriculum that focuses on mathematics, science and technology. The school opened in 2007 sharing a campus with Duluth High School but moved to a new facility in Lawrenceville during the summer of 2010.

"At GSMST, you're not afraid of being yourself. Whereas, at other schools the people are sectioned off; the nerds and then the cool people," Nicius said.

Nnakwe said that it was awesome to be a part of the first graduating class because the curriculum was challenging and it brought out her full potential.

The class started off with 210 students but declined, resulting in 111 graduates.

Jeffrey A. Mathews, principal of GSMST, shared his gratitude with his graduates for continuing their journey from the campus they once shared with Duluth High School to the newly built facility that became GSMST.

"The students embraced the move from the Duluth campus. It was a great gift from the Board of Education and the community at large; it is much appreciated," he said. "The culture at GSMST has not changed since the move, but we now have a higher level of technology and I'm glad the graduating class got to access that."

Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks told the graduating class that they laid a solid foundation and set the stage for students to follow in the future.

"I have no doubt that this graduating class will provide profound impact throughout our nation and world within the near future," he said.

The GSMST seniors showed unity when they cheered "G-S-M-S-T" during the commencement address by fellow graduate Nikhil Lakhanpal.

"It has been a long journey, lots of classes and hard work, but also lots of friends, friends for life," said Aaron Gascoigne, graduating senior.

Not only was it a significant affair for the graduates, it was also a great moment for family members. Some cheered when students accepted diplomas and others recorded the moment students walked in as seniors to the moment they walked out as graduating seniors.

Dawn Richerson was wary when her son, Luke, enrolled as a freshman four years ago, but said it has unfolded beautifully.

"I'm very proud and excited because the school has prepared them in a way that is unique. I'm excited for his endeavors in the future whatever it may be," she said.