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PHOTOS: Ashley Chapel Class of 2023

HAMLET — As the sun set in front of them over the lake behind the Richmond Community College amphitheater, 18 students from Ashley Chapel Educational Center turned their tassels.

As each of the students walked up to receive their diplomas, they shook hands with a school board member — alternating between Wiley Mabe, Bobbie Sue Ormsby, Ronald Tillman and Daryl Mason (Jerry Etheridge took photos) — received a hug from Innovative Partnership Grant Coach Tina Pearson McNeil, shook hands with Superintendent Dr. Joe Ferrell, and posed for a photo with Principal Kevin Mabe.

One student hugged all four.

“Graduation is not the end, it is the beginning,” Mabe told the students before they were called up, encouraging them to “Do what is right, not what is easy.”

Mabe then had the students close their eyes, to remember their educational path and how they wound up in the alternative school.

“You had many different tests, many different trials … sometimes you didn’t know if you were going to make or not,” Mabe continued. “But the good news is you made it. Here you are. I’m very proud of you.”

The principal encouraged the students to use their talents and offered three wishes:

  • To be safe: “You get invited to an altercation, guess what? You don’t have to go. You don’t have to be there.”
  • To be happy: “You have the right to chase your dreams. I hope you catch them all.”
  • To be a blessing to everyone: “You should do something positive for someone else every single day.”

Mabe said education is “the most powerful weapon in which you can use to change the world.”

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest,” he added. “With hard work, you can overcome your problems and issues. Instruction ends in the schoolroom, but education lasts a lifetime.”


He told the students to take pride in how far they have come to have faith in how far they will go.

“Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon,” he continued, trying not to tear up.

Mabe, who has been principal at Ashley Chapel for six years, said his favorite things about the school have been the staff “and the kids smiling.” He is leaving Ashley Chapel to become the dropout prevention coordinator for Richmond County Schools.

“You are going to succeed, I promise you, because I’m crazy enough to think you will.”

See more photos below.

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.