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Clergy celebrate John Adams grads

Local faith leaders and families of new John Adams High School graduates gathered Thursday to celebrate the senior class and the teachers who helped them succeed.

Bethany Christian Church held a baccalaureate service to congratulate the students and encourage them to keep their faith strong as they plan their futures. The service was thought to be a first for the school.

“We want to let them know how much we appreciate them and support them for making sure that education became a priority in their lives,” said the Rev. Aaron Phillips, pastor at Sure House Baptist Church. “We want to wrap our arms around them and give them something from the African- American faith community -- from all our churches that surround this neighborhood.”

The Rev. Dr. R. E. Hedgeman, pastor of Bethany Christian Church, applauded the accomplishments of the 123 graduating seniors and acknowledged the obstacles they overcame along the way.

“We’re celebrating the fact that you beat the odds,” Hedgeman said. “For some of you, the the challenges were more than you cared to mention. The tests were not always graded on a curve, and sometimes you wondered if you would make it or not.”

Teachers presented trophies to the class officers and top 10 students, including valedictorian Deon Whittsette and salutatorians Dejanee Cammon and Demarius Rogers. Every student left the service with a Bible to keep handy as they enter college or the workforce.

Community leaders including Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg and Cleveland City Councilman Zach Reed also took to the pulpit to offer advice and encouragement to the graduates. Reed, the Ward 2 councilman and John F. Kennedy High School graduate, told the graduates to take pride in what they had accomplished.

“Don’t let anybody ever tell you because you graduate from Cleveland Metropolitan School District that you’re a second-class person,” Reed said.

Parents who attended the ceremony said they appreciated that the speakers emphasized the important role of faith in education. Kim Bruce, whose son Quayshawn is one of the top 10 students in his class, said the service left her feeling proud and excited.

“It meant a lot to me,” she said. “It showed me that in this community, everyone can come together and have a nice time. It’s very peaceful, and I just love the awards. I just loved everything about this.”

Hedgeman left the graduates with an assignment — to continue to grow in their faith as they face challenges in the future.

“Life is not always going to go the way you want it,” Hedgeman said. “Sooner or later you’ll find yourself in circumstances over which you have no control. Your assignment is to conquer your circumstances.”

Bethany Baptist Church is one of several churches that with teachers, organizations and public figures make up the Reach Out & Touch Initiative,, a non-profit group dedicated to using faith to positively influence Cleveland schools. 

Phillips said he wants the baccalaureate service to become an annual tradition for John Adams graduates.

The high school was abuzz this spring with news and accomplishments in athletics and academics. 

Students were part of a team that joined forces with peers from three other cities earlier this month to win the FIRST Robotics World Championship in St. Louis. It’s also one of five Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools that will receive synthetic turf football fields from the Cleveland Browns over the next two years.

The John Adams graduation ceremony was held Friday at Cuyahoga Community College's Metro Campus.