CLEVELAND, MS – It’s graduation rehearsal for Cleveland Central High Seniors in Cleveland, Mississippi.
This year is the first graduating class since predominantly white Cleveland High and predominantly black Eastside High became one.
Even students had doubts.
“I really didn’t agree because I felt like I wasn’t gonna have a say so in it. It was gonna still be separated,” says Kiyah Brown, who is Valedictorian at Cleveland Central High.
“I graduated from Cleveland High and I wanted my family to graduate and be alumni from the same school. The Trojans were the same way. That is their history,” says Denise Hudson, whose son, Ryan Smith, is a graduating senior.
“At first I had my doubts, but its a lot better than I expected it to be. Kids are not really against each other as I thought they would be,” says Senior Ryan Smith.
As proof, 18-year-old Kiyah Brown will take the stage with the honor of valedictorian.
“I worked very hard to get here. I kept my grades up. I changed my attitude for the better,” says Kiyah.
Her family says she also beat the odds.
“She did have a baby taking AP calculus and AP English. But she still never lost focus of her goal in this and that was to be number 1,” says Shundra Brown, Kiyah’s Aunt.
School integration was a tough battle here and was ultimately ordered by a judge.
“You had the hostility of the public that didn’t want it. You had the positive that did want it. People bought into it for whatever reason,” says Randy Grierson, Cleveland Central High’s Principal.
Two schools once rivals have finally a come together.
Students and staff hope what has happened here sends a message to the entire community of Cleveland and the country.
“You can do the impossible. Because that is what this was deemed by a lot of people who said this could not happen. And we have shown it can happen,” says Grierson.
The principal says 99-percent of the senior class is graduating. The ceremony is May 19th at 10am in the coliseum at nearby Delta State University.
Brown plans to attend Alcorn State and pursue a degree in Nursing.