LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's not hard to get caught up in the moment when you attend a high school graduation. 

The smiles, the pride and the overwhelming sense of accomplishment -- and that's just coming from the teenagers who are wearing caps and gowns in their school colors. A different kind of excitement exists in the stands as parents, grandparents and other family members watch as their loved one crosses the stage, shakes their principal's hand and is handed their diploma.

This year, I was honored to watch 947 seniors from Seneca, Atherton and Fern Creek high schools graduate. You might think I am crazy, but attending graduations is something that I really enjoy. I don't personally know any of this year's graduates, yet in many ways I feel like I know them all.

As an education reporter who has extensively covered Jefferson County Public Schools for 11 years now, these seniors were in second grade when I arrived in Louisville. I've spent a lot of time visiting classrooms, learning about the education system and reporting about the impact it has had on our children.

This group of students has encountered a lot. From changes in Kentucky's testing and accountability system and changes in how their grades are calculated to the blunt criticism of their school district from the state's highest elected official, it's important to watch these kids cross the finish line.

JCPS school board chairman Chris Brady addressed 322 graduates from Fern Creek High during their commencement at Broadbent Arena on Friday. He praised the class, telling them that their generation "will be tested, you will inherit much more difficult circumstances than were given to those before you."

"You will be asked to do things that will try your spirit, you will discover yourselves in your resilience and you will find celebration with each other when you prove victorious over the obstacles life puts in front of you," Brady said.

Each one of them is a success story. Here are a few examples:

  • Cira Hardiman-Foster graduated from Iroquois High School on Wednesday. When she was 13, she was diagnosed with a pseudo tumor on her brain which caused her to have seizures. This past year, she spent a lot of time in the hospital. Her teacher Scarlet Garrity says "Cira wasn't sure she'd be able to graduate with her senior class, but after lots of hard work, determination, and doing home hospital (school at home) she was able to walk the line and graduated in the top 10 percent of her class."
  • Mark Jones is one of 11 students from Western High School who graduated with their associate's degree prior to earning their high school diploma on Thursday morning. Jones is a multi-sport athlete who works a job every weekend and will enter the University of Louisville this fall with only two years left to earn his bachelor's degree.
  • Hannah Manning graduated from Atherton High School on Thursday night. She moved to Louisville when she was 11 with her mom, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. In middle school, Hannah lost her hearing in her right ear. Her guidance counselor says Hannah never gave up focusing on her academics and her service to school and others. She's been awarded a four-year scholarship to Boston University where she will major in biomedical engineering.
  • Travis Bailey graduated from Fern Creek High School on Friday morning. He has an intellectual disability and became seriously ill over the winter. As you might recall from previous news coverage, his class voted him Homecoming King and one of his classmates, McKenzie Goldsmith, dressed up as Darth Vader (he's huge Star Wars fan) and asked him to prom

A number of this year's graduates are like Shawn Sullivan from Seneca High School, who has entered the United States Armed Forces and will be serving our country. 

Some graduates will go off to college. At the three graduations I attended, it was announced that students had earned more than $30 million in scholarships.

Other graduates will go straight to the workforce. 

Good luck, Class of 2017. 

A special thanks to Fern Creek High School graduates Emma McKinney, Cheyenne Osuala and Pearl Morttey for inviting me to your graduation. One of the best parts of being an education reporter is having the opportunity to meet some really great students over the years. It's always an honor when I'm asked to attend their graduation. Thank you!


Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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