Wendy McGregor had all the glow of a mother watching her oldest daughter earn a high school diploma.
“I am the mother of Tasha McGregor,” she said. “Yes, Yes, Yes! We did it!”
Despite an unclear future, the tone at what is likely to be the unaccredited Normandy School District’s final graduation under its current structure was one of pride and perseverance.
“Right now we’re just trying to focus on them,” McGregor said. “Even though it could be Normandy something else, we’re all still Normandy strong.”
On Tuesday, the Missouri State Board of Education voted to dissolve the district and establish the Normandy Schools Collaborative. The district's boarders and schools would remain, but it would be governed by a state appointed board. A lawsuit filed by the district on Wednesday challenges that move and the validity of the school transfer law that has it on the brink of bankruptcy.
The swirl of controversy hardly dampened the spirits of graduate Raquel Merriweather.
“I have these positive memories from being here, and it wipes up all the negative stuff,” said Merriweather, who will start classes at St. Louis County Community College’s Florissant Valley campus in the fall.
The same went for Courtney Hudson, who after graduating on Thursday night is off to play basketball at Arkansas Baptist College.
“I kind of feel like it brought our class together,”Hudson said.
That sense of solidarity was on display as the school’s gym filled with friends, family and community members excited to see tassels turn and caps fly.
“The class of 2014 has been the underdog this year,” Salutatorian Samone Smith said in her speech. “People have publicly stated that they did not believe in us. We’ve been tarnished not only as a class but as a school district.”
Smith pointed out that many of her classmates became informal spokespersons for the school district during the course of a tumultuous senior year.
“When the odds were against us, we have represented ourselves and Normandy very well,” Smith said.
Before encouraging her classmates to go out and explore the world with an open mind, valedictorian Brandy Coleman acknowledged that it hasn't been the typical senior year for her and her classmates.
“All the political stuff that’s been happen has been kind of crazy,” Coleman said. “But let me tell you all right now, we deserve these diplomas.”
After handing out diplomas, Superintendent Ty McNichols reiterated his pride in the district’s 119 graduates.
“There’s a lot of motivation in those kids,” McNichols said. “Even in the stories they told, it was about perseverance, looking forward and being proud of graduating. They even said, they got a good, quality education, despite what people think. They have proved people wrong.”
As for the lawsuit the district filed this week, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education — which controls the unaccredited district’s finances — said that it will not pay for those legal expenses. When asked where the money for legal fees would come from, McNichols would only say: “We’re working on that.”