40 students graduate at FAMU DRS commencement

For Chandra Godwin, it was hard to believe: She was sitting inside the gymnasium, minutes away from watching her goddaughter, Cayla Pennywell, and two cousins, Keenan and Mikala Williams, graduate from Florida A&M University Developmental Research School.

“It seems like it came really, really fast,” Godwin said. “But I’m really excited to see them [graduate]. They’re really good kids, they’re really talented and I expect really good things out of them.”

Hundreds flowed into the DRS gymnasium this afternoon to cheer on the the future alums as 40 seniors flipped their tassels and walked across the stage to collect their diplomas.

Commencement speaker attorney Daryl Parks, a partner at Parks & Crump LLC, told the graduating class persistence and attitude will get them where they’re trying to go.

“If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives,” Parks said. “Do it good anyway. If you are successful, you will find false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.”  

Patricia Green-Powell, interim dean of FAMU’s College of Education, delivered words of inspiration, first by asking the class of graduates if they had a vision.

“Let me talk to you a little about your personal vision, for it defines what and who you want to become at a set time in your future,” she said. “A vision ensures that you stay focused on your plans to achieve your goals. And your vision keeps you on track so that you won’t deviate from the course that you have set.”

After Green-Powell finished her speech, she called Sharonda McThay to the stage. McThay, class valedictorian, was acknowledged for receiving the Adopted High School Award, a FAMU scholarship worth more than $58,000 that Green-Powell said will cover tuition, fees, housing and meals for four years.

Twenty-one students graduated with at least a 3.0 GPA.

Keondrea Huggins, who wore orange and green cords to signify having a GPA greater than 3.8, said graduating in front of friends and family was an excellent experience.

“All the hard work and dedication and the tough times that I’ve overcome, it just felt good for it to finally pay off,” said Huggins, who plans to major in computer engineering at FAMU.

As for Pennywell and Keenan and Mikala Williams, Godwin said she thinks all of them are going to FAMU.

“I went to FAMU,” said Godwin, who also said she played softball for the Lady Rattlers. “I kind of wanted them to try to do something different and get away from home, but if they were gonna stay home, I’m glad they chose FAMU.”

DRS is a K-12 laboratory school that operates under the university, and eight graduates attended the school since kindergarten.

Sylvester Peck, who teaches at DRS, said the teacher-student relationship is very close there and that the teachers try to get the students into as many places as they can where the students will be successful.

“FAMU High has a history of fermenting, I guess, an atmosphere or fermenting a desire for kids to succeed,” Peck said. “Even though our school grades say one thing, when you look at the success rate of our students once they leave here, it’s just outstanding.”