Students in black, blue, red or green caps and gowns filed into the common area at Asbury Academy on Friday to receive their hard-won diplomas. Each of the graduates wore the color cap and gown that designated which of the four Lincoln County Schools high school they attended before coming to Asbury. Each of the 14 students who graduated has gone through their own particular set of struggles before making their way up to receive their diploma. As Soloman McAuley said in his graduation address, they may not have got it all right, but they didn’t get it all wrong, because they did graduate.
“If tomorrow could talk, it would tell you that everybody will not value you the way you value you,” McAuley said. “So, know your worth. Define and embrace your worth. Know who you are. If you’re waiting for this world to define you, you might be waiting a good long time and you might miss your mission in life.”
One of the graduates wearing the black robe designating that he formerly attended Lincolnton High School, Noah Harris, struggled with a difficult family life, drugs and alcohol before he was sent to Asbury two years ago. With the help of the teachers and staff at Asbury, he is now on his own personal mission in life.
“I don’t do well in big classrooms,” Harris said. “I had issues outside of school as well that caused me to get distracted outside of school. It was like a double whammy. Asbury gave me a smaller class size with more personalized learning. It seems like the teachers care more about you here.”
After attending Asbury for a year, he was thrown a life preserver by Kyla Ketcham, who teaches at Asbury, in the form of the chance for a more stable living environment. Ketcham has been Harris’s foster parent for the past year.
Now that he’s graduated from high school, Harris, who received a $500 scholarship from Zaxby’s during the graduation ceremony, will be attending Mitchell Community College with the intention of going on to become a certified nursing assistant.
“Things were still bad for me when I got to Asbury but they slowly got better,” Harris said. “I met Kyla at Asbury and my grades came up.”
Harris was “bouncing” from couch to couch before he entered into the foster arrangement with Ketcham, who is a therapeutic foster parent in Iredell County.
“I grew up in foster care, shelters and group homes myself,” Ketcham said. “When I became an adult, it was a really big deal for me to be able to get my license and take in kids. I prefer to take in teenagers.”
Harris is not the first child Ketcham has fostered, but he’s the first student that she’s taught at Asbury who became a foster.
“Noah was very much going down the wrong path when I met him,” Ketcham said. “He had already bottomed out. I met him right after he was released from jail. When he moved in with me, we had a long conversation about things that would and wouldn’t be acceptable.”
To abide by these rules was a conscious decision on Noah’s part, Ketcham said. He had to decide that he was going to make that change in life.
“He was ready to get his life on track, which is why everything was so successful,” she said.
At this time, Harris said that he’s completely clean and plans to keep up with his college education. He’s aware that he’ll have to “grow up and deal with” larger class sizes while at Mitchell.
“There’s no other way to do it,” he said. “You’ve just got to deal with the big classes and focus.”
Ketcham believes that Harris will be able to adapt to larger class sizes now that he’s in a more stable living environment with his basic needs being met.
“Where he is now, he’s able to see a different side of life,” she said.