Chris Weisgerber has attended the Atlantic County Special Services School since he was 7 years old.
Now 21, he reminisced about his years there at his graduation on Friday, talking about the teachers who have inspired him, the aides who have helped him, and the friends he has made, including a girlfriend.
"I made it all the way to tier 4," he told the audience as one of the featured speakers. That level of training included an internship working in the community.
The Special Services School graduation is always a little bittersweet. The graduates all have serious disabilities, and the staff has tried to give them the skills they will need to survive in the real world. Some will be able to work, but others will not.
"You have worked hard on your academic, social, emotional and life skills," Superintendent Lizabeth Buoro said. "There will be difficult times. Use the skills you have learned to be strong and make positive decisions. You all deserve the best."
Students Joshn Johnson, Eric Wicker and Christina Hill each lit a candle representing the past, present and future.
Graduate speaker Katie Sadowski said the school taught her how to work and help others. She thanked her parents for helping her achieve her goals.
"I work hard to be a really good daughter," she said. "I will miss this school. It will always be in my heart."
David Boyer received the Academic Excellence Award. Principal Eric Flecken said Boyer exemplifies the values of the school to work hard, overcome obstacles and keep trying, even when something is difficult. He said Boyer had risen from working in the school's food-service program to spending the last three years in a job training placement at Shore Memorial Hospital.
Michelle Herold and Michael Riley received the Graduate Achievement Awards and Weisgerber received the Unsung Hero Award. Gabriel Mercado and Brittany Wright were awarded the School to Career Program, Arc of Cumberland County Outstanding Achievement Award.
Buoro presented the Community Partners Award to Leon Creamer and Penny Shaw of the Accelerators and Friends, for the holiday giving program they have sponsored for 14 years at the school, providing gifts for the students.
Friday's program ended, as always, with a "then and now" slide show created by students displaying baby and childhood photos of the graduates along with scenes from their final year.
The students officially graduate from their hometown high school, although ACSSD has been their home.
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