MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — The halls of Muskegon Heights High School were filled with smiles, laughter, and big dreams Thursday evening as the Class of 2022 took pictures with their family members and their brand new diplomas.
Graduation marks a new beginning for these students as they prepare to enter adulthood. They're getting some help as they make that transition.
Community leaders have prepared a gift package for each graduate. Each of them will receive a $50 checking or savings voucher to start a bank account at Comerica Bank's Muskegon Heights branch. They'll also receive assistance putting together a professional résumé and scholarship biography from Precise Writings, LLC, paid for by the Muskegon Community Foundation Grant. Shoreline Staffing will also offer each graduate a summer job if they're interested.
The package was the brainchild of Kaja Thornton-Hunter, the President and CEO of Overcoming Barriers, Inc. She came up with the idea after she was asked to be this year's commencement speaker.
"I thought about it that night. It kept me up until like 1 in the morning, and I was like, 'I have to give them more than words,'" she said.
Thornton-Hunter then put together her team of community leaders to make the package a reality.
"We wanted to bring light to this particular moment and let the kids know that we believe in them. This their support system. We believe in them and we want to be even want them to be successful," said D'Erika Nichols-Woods, who serves as Director of Programming & Development with Overcoming Barriers.
The graduation ceremony was an emotional occasion for Thornton-Hunter, who graduated from Muskegon Heights in 1990.
"This was a way to jumpstart their adulthood, but also I wanted them to see what they could be. They can be business owners. They can be mentors. They can be community workers and business owners. They can be entrepreneurs. They can be whatever they want to be," she said.
The graduates themselves are excited to start a new chapter in their lives. For Dajanik Goliday, that means moving on to Ferris State University.
"As soon as I got out here I started crying. It was it was a lot of emotion. Happy emotion, because we did it," Goliday said.
Another graduate, Kanaria Wallace dedicated her big night to her cousin who passed away in 2018.
"She would tell me how proud she is of me, that I did this that we did this - that we did this," Wallace said.
"Thank you Muskegon Heights High School for even giving me this [diploma]. Thank you for all the opportunities that you've given me. Thank you."
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