We started on Jenkins Road, now we’re going everywhere

We started on Jenkins Road, now we’re going everywhere

1by Russell Cooks

One of the most culturally diverse and multi-talented classes just graduated from Sandy Creek High School. However, their journey together did not start at Sandy Creek. Most of them have been breaking down barriers and building bridges together since their elementary days together at Burch Elementary. Then there were others who connected to the movement at Flat Rock Middle School. Now, these scholars, world class athletes, and gifted artists will be attending college and universities around the country. The University of Georgia made a tremendous gain in the genius recruiting battle, landing the Class President, Class Vice President, Class Valedictorian, and two more Honor Graduates.

2016 Class Officers
President Tori Ector – Scholarship to UGA, Honor Graduate, Captain of Cheerleading Squad, and Track
Meagen Coleman knows her friend has a bright future. ”Tori is going to UGA to study Biology. As long as I’ve known her she’s always enjoyed combining sports with health, so I believe Tori is going to tackle the medical field but still find a way to include her love for sports.
“Whichever path she chooses to follow, I know she’ll be extremely successful. I can’t wait to see everything she does and I wish her nothing but the very best!”
Tori best described this uniquely gifted class, when she said, “While our future is unknown, it is bright, unyielding, and destined for greatness. We are destined for greatness!. We are winners. We are the Class of 2016!”

Vice President Skylar Ingram – Scholarship to UGA and Honor Graduate
Alexis Broadwater knew early on that Skyler was gifted. “When I saw how she did everything a completely different way from me and it still would be good or even better than mine. Sky just has her way of doing things and she is awesome.”
When asked to tell us something that we don’t know about Sky, Broadwater said, “She is a comedian. She is funniest person that I know, but only the ones who really know her can really understand the humor to its fullest extent.”

Secretary Alexa Yanar – Scholarship to Emory University, Honor Graduate, and Soccer star
“Alexa has always been incredibly gifted on the field,” said her friend, Ali Shiraef. “She is super fast and can handle the ball like nobody else. However, I remember specifically when Alexa came back from living in Texas for our eighth grade year, we had many classes together as freshmen at Sandy Creek. I discovered just how intelligent and motivated Alexa was in her academics, as well as other extra curricular activities. It was interesting to see her in the classroom instead of on the field. We started playing varsity soccer in ninth grade as well, but I will never forget how suddenly I realized her intelligence. I suppose awareness came with age.”
When asked what Alexa will be when she grows up, Ali said, “Alexa and I have actually had many conversations about our future plans together, considering we have very similar goals. She is majoring in Political Science at Emory University, and later plans to earn a degree in Law, and become an attorney. This is something we both share. It’s well known that most college students change their plans and their majors as they go along, and I doubt Alexa and I will be any exception. Nevertheless, whatever Alexa plans on doing with her life, it will be amazing. She’s so naturally gifted, smart, and motivated, and all the qualities you look for in a successful young woman. I am so excited to see what she does. I would not be surprised if one day we were electing her as president.”

Treasurer Destiny Quinn – Scholarship to Kennesaw State University and Honor Graduate
Asked about her initial impression of Destiny, Ruchi Patel, friend and classmate, said, “I honestly don’t even remember when or how Destiny and I even met, but I can say I’m glad I did and that she’s one of my closest friends. We’ve gotten so close over the years and there hasn’t been a dull moment since.”

Athletic Excellence
Christian Turner – Gardner-Webb basketball signee and Sandy Creek Basketball Player of the Year
Russell Cooks, Jr., Turner’s friend since childhood, saidd,” Christian and I first met in the After School Program at Burch. We just clicked and did everything together after school, whether it was homework, basketball, or anything else there was to do.
“I realized Christian was truly gifted at basketball when he would compete and go toe-to-toe with one of our janitors, Jamal, a 6’3″ man in his 20s with some nice skills while he was only 7 or 8 years old.”

Javon Jackson-Duke University football signee and Fayette County Football Player of the Year
“I knew he was going to be a great athlete because no one could catch him when we played football on the playground,” said DJ Forte, a teammate of Jackson’s and a classmate since the third grade. “I realized Javon was a gifted athlete when he scored the game winning shot at our eighth grade basketball championship game.”
Asked what Jackson needs to do to make it to make it to the NFL, DJ replied, “To keep God first and to get better everyday at Duke. I’m rooting for him because I know how bad he wants the championship. He wants to be great and  he definitely has my support!!”

Will Harper – Tulane University football signee and Linebacker Of The Year
Jared Sumpter, friend, classmate, and teammate, remembers Harper as someone greeting a new friend. “I met Will in eighth grade when I first came to Flat Rock, and I remember walking down the hall by myself and him coming up to me asking if I was a new student and said he would show me around. My initial impression was that he was an athlete which I later found out that he was.”

Antonio Trapp – Brown University football signee, singer, and Honor Graduate
“From the day I met him to today, Antonio always amazed me at how well-rounded he was and it seems as though everyday that we were friends, he surprised me at both how multi-talented he was and how much we had in common,” said Connor Dial, friend and classmate. “From that first day in sixth grade until my senior year, we have always had basically the same class schedule because we were both always in the advance educational program. So I always knew he was a smart guy.
“Starting seventh grade when we were allowed to play school sports, I began to realize how athletically gifted and how hard of a worker he was. On the wrestling mat, on the track, and even on the football field I was always amazed at how hard he worked and how much he was involved in. It was cool having all these things in common with someone else. It gave me a good friend to both depend on and look up to when I would get discouraged after a hard day of work.”
“Antonio has always been a great friend, a man of faith and the true definition of a renaissance man, and I thank the Lord for our friendship throughout the years,” added Dial.

Alexis Broadwater – Kennesaw State University Volleyball signee and Volleyball Player Of The Year
Skylar Ingram said of Broadwater, “She has always been naturally talented in every aspect of life(school, sports, social life). I recognized this from the very beginning of our friendship when she would always beat me in Pokemon on the nintendo 64.”
Asked what Alexis be when she grows up, Skylar replied, “She wants to major in psychology and do something involving therapy. Whatever she ends up doing it will be dealing with people to help improve their life, which is perfect for her because of her great communication skills.”

DJ Forte – Ole Miss football signee and Defensive Lineman of the Year
Javon Jackson notched Forte early on. “I met DJ in the first grade, and I thought ‘He’s huge I wonder if he plays football’.
Asked what DJ needs to do to make it to the NFL, Javon said, “Get stronger and have a non stop motor which he is very much capable of doing. I believe in my boy without a doubt he will play in the NFL.”

Cole Jackson – Georgia State baseball signee and Baseball Player Of The Year
Asked when he recognized that Cole was a gifted athlete, Javon Jackson said, “I played up in baseball with (Cole’s) older brother and one tournament our teams played in the same tournament, and I watched him play and that’s when I knew he was good and the next year we played on the same football team.”
Rodney Randers added, “I realized he was gifted at baseball when I first met him and with academics throughout high school.
“Cole just needs  keep working hard and let nothing distract him from his goals and he will definitely play Major League Baseball.”
Jackson added, “Do I think he’ll make it? Yes, without a doubt I’d be surprised if he didn’t get drafted this year honestly. Why do I think he’ll make it? Because he is a freak from his physical appearance to his playing ability. He’s just an all-around freak.”

Korey Banks, Jr. – South Carolina Football signee and First Team All-County in Football
Asked when he first met Korey, Jaelen Greene said, “I first met Korey through Twitter. My dad knew his dad before I knew Korey, so I wanted to get to meet him my freshman year. When I first met him, I knew we was going to be bros. We just clicked instantly.”
Jaelen saw for sure that Korey was special this season. “His senior year when he ran a post against Villa Rica it looked like he ran a 4.0 down the field.”

Elijah Gilmore – Wingate University Football signee, Honor Graduate, and First Team All-County in Football
“I had classes with Elijah, so when we got scores back I would compare them to mine and he would always get A’s or a high B’s,” remembered his friend, Robert James. “On the athletic side, I could look at Elijah and instantly tell that he was an athlete. Elijah was huge and is still getting bigger and stronger. I would always hear about how hard Elijah hits at practice. He would also break weight room records. It was amazing. Fun fact about his athletic career in a football game he broke his own face ask because he hit somebody so hard.”

Chandler Tuitt – Ole Miss Football signee and Offensive Lineman of The Year
Antonio Trapp remembered, “I first met Chandler in Mrs. Tompkins homeroom in sixth grade. He sat to my left and never stopped talking. The first time I spoke to him was to ask for some gum and he refused. My first impression despite his actions was that he was a really friendly guy that could sometimes be possessive.”
“One of the most memorable plays in middle school was when he was on the defensive line and caused the running back to fumble,” said Trapp. “He then picked up the ball and ran it to our end zone with three opposing players dragging behind him. The touchdown was called back because Chandler spiked the ball out of excitement.”

Rodney Randers – Florida A&M baseball signee and Second Team All-County In Baseball
“Rodney and I first met in the second grade at Burch Elementary. We were actually really good friends ever since we were young,” said Cooks. “It is quite amazing that we will both be attending Florida A&M together, as we have known each other for so long.”
Asked what Rodney needs to do excel in college, Russell, Jr. said, “Rodney needs to stay disciplined and focused on his both his athletic and academic gifts to make the best of his opportunity, and most importantly keep God first. Go Rattlers!”

Honor Graduates and Artistic Excellence
Russell Cooks, Jr. – Scholarship to Florida A&M University, Math Team, and band
“I don’t exactly know where we met, but I believe my first impression was he was really funny,” said Christian Turner. “Over the years we have maintained very, very close friendship. He is my brother.”
“Once we started really hanging out, I started noticing that he had great grades. The beauty of our relationship is that we respect each other’s gift, but there has never been a competition. We are each other’s biggest fan,” added Turner
Asked what Russell needs to do to realize his goal of being an entrepreneur and business mogul, Christian said, “He must keep God first and always believe that he can do whatever it takes to reach his dreams!”

Tajah Damm – Scholarship to Georgia Tech and Math Team
When asked when she met Tajah and her initial impression, Ashanti Griggs, best friend and classmate, said, “WeI met in Burch through a mutual friend (Takida) in the 5th grade and we all became really close.
“Tajah didn’t talk much at first but she eventually start to show how goofy and how fun she is to be around,” remembered Ashanti Griggs. “I always knew Tajah was smart but at our fifth grade ceremony Tajah’s name was called for every award there was, whether it was to show her academic strengths or to show her character.”
Brittney Johnson added, “I knew she was gifted from the moment I met her. She’s the smartest, wisest, and most passionate girl I know. The way she speaks about life and God is truly inspiring. Her presence is God’s gift to everyone who has been and will be fortunate enough to meet her. Everything she does she seems to do in grace. She is truly unique and too wise for her years if you ask me.”

Eli Presberg – Scholarship to Oberlin College, and Math Team, and band
Jin Kim said of Presberg, “He was someone that couldn’t be missed. He was known by numerous people for being intelligent and humorous, which was essentially what my first impression became. At the time, I didn’t know that I would get to know him that well and become a close friend.”
“The thing about Eli is that he is gifted in so many subjects,” said Kim. “He can really be anything that he wishes to be. I know that he is going to major in the political field at Oberlin College, and he is going to go great lengths with such an education. What he will be can be anything from a politician to an engineer, whatever it is I wish the best for him.”

Brittney Johnson – Scholarship to North Carolina A&T
“I met Britt in the Mr. Foley’s sixth grade class,” said Ashanti Grigg. “I thought that she was very quiet and kept to herself but she soon began to show how funny and outgoing she is.”
Tajah Damm added, “She was in my accelerated math class and that is where we got to know each other. Brittney was always very outgoing and funny from the start. We clicked instantly and became best friends.”
Asked what Brittney will be when she grows up, Ashanti and Tajah both said, “She will become a biomedical engineer.”

Meagen Coleman – Scholarship to the University of Alabama and Honor Graduate
“My initial impression was that she was goofy but a lot of fun to be around. She was the first person to speak to me and make me feel apart of the team,” remembered Tori Ector, who she met running track for the Peachtree City Flash. “She has always been very talented, playing multiple instruments, singing, dancing, and writing music and poems.”
“Ever since I’ve known Meagan she always talked about going into law. I believe her desired profession is a Criminal Justice Lawyer.”

Jin Joong Kim – Scholarship to UGA, Honor Graduate, and Math Team
“I met Jin in sixth grade, probably when they gave out lockers by height and we were the two shortest,” joked Eli Presberg. “Jin and I have always gotten along, mostly through a combination of irreverent humor and video games. He was one of my first friends at Flat Rock and one of my favorite people I graduated with.”
“Jin is going to work on bestselling video games. Because he’s such a rapacious consumer of them, he knows what’s good and what’s bad, and after years of watching him effortlessly ace math and learn to code, I know he’ll have the knowledge to back it up.”

Ashanti Griggs – Scholarship to Mercer University and Honor Graduate
Asked when she realized that Ashanti was gifted, Tajah Damm said, “I recognized that Ashanti was gifted in middle school. She was always so creative growing up and I knew that was her gift. Ashanti also showed her strength in academics to me in middle school.”
Brittney Johnson added, “I think I first recognized she was gifted the first time I saw her interact with children. The way she is with them is inspiring to watch, whether she’s known them all their lives or just met them five minutes ago. They love and adore her. This is truly a gift and I hope that she takes advantage of it and makes a wonderful and helpful career out of it.
“I know Ashanti will work with kids and medicine. She has a drive that no one can interfere with. If she wants it, she will get it. Her highest hopes and dreams, she will achieve them. I have no doubt about that. Her loyalty is unmatched, she will be respected and admired. She will still be my sister when she grows up.”

Connor Dial – Scholarship to Furman University, Honor Graduate,  band, and cross country
Asked when they first met and his initial impression, Antonio Trapp, classmate and friend, said,
“Connor and I met in sixth grade math class with Mr Hutchinson. He called everyone by their last name except for Connor. He went by Rockhound. I thought that was the coolest thing. I saw that Connor wanted to be friends with everybody like me, and that’s when I wanted to be just like him.”
“I didn’t realize how truly gifted he was until seventh grade when we did conditioning for football. He was always the only person beating me. I remember talking to him about it and giving his props, but he has always been the most humble person I know.”

Amaya Wright – Scholarship to Georgia State University, Honor Graduate, and graphic design
Asked when she realized that Amaya was talented, Brelyn Parker said, “I’ve always known that she was talented, but it wasn’t until I saw her take an interest in art that I knew that it was her calling. I admire her talent, and I know it will take her to great places.”
“I think Amaya will be a Graphic Designer. She may also take the path of an art director or an art buyer since she loves to travel.”

Ali Shiraef – Scholarship to Emory University and Honor Graduate
“Before I knew Ali Shiraef as a friend or classmate, I knew her as a fellow teammate that sported the same fluorescent green jersey of Tyrone soccer,” said Alexa Yanar. “I am still surprised to see how similar we are despite our turbulent, individual growth.”
“The realization that Ali has many spectacular gifts and talents did not come all at once– it was as if everyone around her had a front-row seat of her developing her own individuality by honing in on the various things which interested her,” added Alexa. “Her internet presence developed as she made great YouTube videos and Tumblr posts, her athletic abilities heightened as we made Varsity and she started as goalkeeper, she cultivated herself intellectually with rigorous classes, and more. Recognition of being a talented person came instantaneously, and being there to watch her become even more talented was amazing.”

Heyley Gatewood – Scholarship to Stetson University, Honor Graduate, and Math Team President
Asked when she met Heyley, Charray Helton said, “I met Heyley Gatewood at the Governor’s Honors Program in 2015. I was a dance major and she was a math major. My very first impression of Heyley was that she was extremely funny. I thought she was one of those popular girls in her school that everyone loved.”
“I realized that Heyley was multi-gifted while at GHP. I came to my dorm room to get something and I could hear her singing in the shower. She claims that she can’t sing, but if you were to hear what I did you would beg to differ as well. Also, when I visited her house once, we did math problems for fun. Well she did. She has a gift in math that I’ve never seen before. As Heyley would say: ‘Must Be Nice!’”

Ruchi Patel – Scholarship to UGA and multi-talented artist
Chandini Kannan, best friend and class Valedictorian, said, “I first met Ruchi in sixth grade, and at the time I was very shy and not very social, so her presence was intimidating. However, the minute we started talking, we clicked.”
Asked when she realized that Ruchi was gifted, Chandini, said, “I first realized she was a gifted student when I saw her in many of my classes. My mom instantly considered her competition due to her amazing grades. It was hard not to recognize her potential and natural intelligence.”

Chandini Kannan – Scholarship to UGA , singer, and 2016 Valedictorian
“Chandini and I first became friends in sixth grade and every year after that we’ve gotten to be closer and closer,” said Ruchi Patel. “I’ve always been picky choosing my friends and who I become acquainted but her overall vibes were positive.
“Chandini is my person, but everyone already knows that. She’s super well-rounded, and she will never disappoint you. She’s always there for you no matter what.”
Chandini gave a few shoutouts during her graduation speech, she said, “To name a few: my favorite fashion god Asa Saxon, slaying my life everyday with his outfits that most of us could never pull off just due to the pure fact that we are not Asa Saxon. Then there’s Tajah Damm, whose compassion and beauty and absolute elegance in any and everything she does never ceases to astonish me. Of course, how could I forget the one and only Russell Cooks, the Sandy Creek Goat? And, if you were never blessed with the wise words of Brittney Johnson, did you ever really learn anything? “
Kannan shared these words of wisdom during her commencement address, “Always, always, commit to the journey not the outcome. Never allow yourself to be so consumed in the destination that you forget how you got there. You may not remember these high school relationships, in all honesty, many of you may not want to remember, but don’t forget that this is where you started. In this small school in Tyrone, Georgia. This is where it all started. The mistakes you made here make your accomplishments all the more worthwhile. The tears you shed here make your memories all the more beautiful. And the struggle you experienced here make your success all the more satisfying. It’s fundamentally high school’s greatest paradox.”