By Stuart Jones
Bowling balls, skateboards, cakes and dresses cover the cafeteria tables. Seniors at Williams High School sit anxiously awaiting their time to present. They have worked for two years on this project about something they love. It all comes down to now; 10 minutes to show a panel of four judges what they have learned during their graduation project.
“You nervous,” Stefan Henderson, assistant principal at Williams, asked. “No need to be. You’re going to be fine. You know you’re material and that’s what matters.”
Henderson, who has helped with the graduation project for three years, was the coordinator for the holding area in the cafeteria where the seniors waited for their turn to present.
“I’m not trying to read off of note cards,” said Cameron Lowe, a senior at Williams who presented on how a skateboard is made. “They make me nervous. I know everything I need to know about skateboarding.”
Students often chose topics they were already invested and interested in because they know a lot about it and they want to learn more about it when they get the chance.
The students present either in the fall or spring semester of their senior year.
“I’m glad to be going now instead of the spring,” Khalid Young, a senior presenting about making a lacrosse stick by hand said. “That way I don’t have to worry about it all year, because when the spring comes I’ll be on the lacrosse field.”
Seniors anxiously wait in the silent hallway except from some small talk. They sit in desks just outside the classroom where they are presenting waiting their turn.
Some administrators walk up and down the closed off hallway reassuring and relaxing students before they go in. Assistant principal John Heath, administrative liaison to the graduation project, keeps tabs on each classroom as students finish, then walkie-talkies down to the cafeteria to have Henderson send up the next corresponding student to the room.
After 10 minutes of presenting and answering questions, students come out transformed and relieved.
“I don’t even know what I said, it just flowed,” Tré Young, a senior presenting about the history of wrestling said. “I was sitting outside that door 10 minutes ago, nervous and sweating. Now I feel like I’m the man now that I finished my presentation. And those judges were nice people too.”
Reflecting on the presentation, seniors have the opportunity to understand the value of their experience.
“It was good practice for later on, when I do go to college,” Preston Pervatte, a senior who presented on how to drill the holes for a bowling ball, said. “So it was very helpful because I’m not a very good presenter even in group projects. In a way it was a confidence booster for me.”
The graduation project becomes more involved in the students’ junior year when they begin writing their paper and receive mentors.
“If you had asked me last year about this project, I would have said it was pointless,” Miranda McCloud, a senior presenting on the skills required to become professional cake decorator, said. “But now that I have finished my presentation, I think it actually has been a big help. It allowed me understand what to do when writing big papers and preparing presentations.”
“It also helped me understand that I do want to go to college for a culinary degree because there are a lot more skills I need to learn to become a professional cake decorator and start my own shop,” McCloud said.
“Having seen the before and after, that’s a really big component of the students’ experience,” Allison Bryan, librarian and co-coordinator of the Graduation Project committee at Williams, said. “It’s then that the kids realize that they can do something that they are really nervous about or didn’t think that they could do, so that’s important too.”
With half the senior population at Williams High School finished with their Graduation Project presentations, the other half prepares and waits anxiously for their turn in the spring.