ROCK HILL — Justin Hood came to his own graduation Wednesday with a silk silver dress shirt, a matching silver tie, black slacks and a fresh haircut.
At 10, the fifth-grade Oakdale Elementary School student hadnt yet moved on to middle school. Still, he was deemed a graduate after learning why its bad to stand and watch while another person is bullied or harassed.
Its not good to be a bystander when somebodys being bullied, he said after he stood to his feet and a cafeteria full of his peers, teachers, coaches, school district officials and some parents erupted in applause. When youre a bystander, sometimes the situation gets worse.
And, when students dont go to class, life gets hard.
Thats the message Jimmy Moose Wallace, the former Northwestern High School football coach and athletic director, brought to the nearly 200 fourth- and fifth-graders assembled at Old Pointe Elementary School on Wednesday, all of them graduates of the GREAT (Gang Resistance Education And Training) program, a series of educational gang and violence prevention classes.
Funded by the federal Department of Justice and offered through York Countys Department of Juvenile Justice, the program is entering its second year in local schools, having already reached at least 500 students since 2012, said DJJs Joe Burton, a GREAT instructor.
For seven weeks, students at Oakdale and Old Pointe schools took the class, Burton said, acting out skits and learning about preventing gang violence.
Its really about teaching them and defining what some of that is, but then putting it into action, he said.
For Wallace, living a great life is all about the right kind of actions.
Youve got to read, he said. Life is a highly competitive battleground ... the only easy day is yesterday.
He encouraged students to appreciate their teachers, never miss a day of class, exercise discipline and develop a plan.
Be in school every day, on time, he said. From 8:30 to 3:30, you train your mind; from 4:30 to 6:30, you train your body. But, you spend your whole life training your heart.
Wallace told stories of students and players he mentored in his 25 years of coaching.
Former Northwestern Trojan Cordarrelle Patterson, who now plays college football for the University of Tennessee, spent his early teens living aimlessly. But things changed for Patterson when he got involved in athletics and ROTC, Wallace said. Now, hes a prospect in this years National Football League draft.
Its easy to be a spectator, but youve got to be a participant, Wallace said.
Like any coach, he issued the students a challenge: Read for 30 minutes every night before you go to bed.
Intelligence and diligence mean success, he said.
During the graduation ceremony, students stood as their teachers called their names and their peers praised them with raucous applause.
One of those students was 10-year-old Nathan Moore, an Old Pointe fourth-grader who said hell miss acting out skits now that the GREAT classes have ended.
Moore recited some of what he learned in seven weeks.
Bullies, he said, are people who hurt other peoples feelings or use actions or words to destroy peoples property. And, when a bully gets too close, remove yourself from the situation, he said.
I hope you all realize that you have greater in you, said GREAT instructor Vanessa Williams during the ceremonys closing.
You all have power, said Williams, an employee with DJJ. Dont give your power away to bullies or gangs.
Make your community proud.
Jonathan McFadden • 803-329-4082