As DeMichael Hall walked across the stage to accept his diploma, the crowd at Hopkinsville High School cheered and screamed his name. Several teachers cried.
This clearly wasn’t a normal graduation ceremony. Hall had become the first person in his family to ever graduate from high school, despite facing a myriad of challenges that prevent many students from receiving their diploma.
Hall was mentored by Brittanie Bogard, an ambassador for the Hopkinsville-based non-profit Challenge House. She was introduced to Hall through Christian County Public Schools’ Diversity and Equity officer, Vice Killebrew.
“He called me one day and he said, ‘Hey, I have this kid, he’s just like you,’” Bogard said.
Like Hall, Bogard was an at-risk student back when she was in school, growing up in adverse situations that made it difficult to succeed academically. It made Bogard, now an adult, determined to support Hall. “I just kind of pushed myself into his life and I started going to his house and just, you know, meeting with his family.”
Through Bogard’s support, Hall got counseling and support as he continued through high school. Things were difficult for him – basic necessities many students take for granted were often missing in his household, such as running water and transportation. Because of the constant struggle, Hall dropped out of school twice and wanting to drop out again in his senior year, but with the support of his community, he pushed through.
“It really took a lot of us to get together and just (encourage) him and just keep empowering him,” Bogard said.
Matthew Handy, a teacher and city councilman who attended Hall’s graduation, said that once people began to know Hall, who was usually very quiet and humble, they rallied around him.
“It takes a village, and Hopkinsville seems to be that village for a lot of these kids,” Handy said.
Handy never had Hall in class, but often had positive interactions with him in the hallway. It was Hall who was giving the teacher compliments or encouragement. He said he never would have known the high schooler was dealing with so much.
“Even on my worst day… [DeMichael would say] ‘It’s gonna be OK,’ ‘Hang in there,’ giving me motivation, giving me support.”
Through Hall’s achievement, he’s not only bettering himself, but those around him, notably his mother and sister.
“He’s changing his whole family … Now his sister and his mom want to get their GED,” Bogard said. “They want to progress and move forward.”
The importance of a high school diploma is hard to understate. Research shows that it opens students up to more opportunities, allows them to earn a higher income, increases life expectancy and decreases dependency on social services later in life.
“When you finally get that piece of paper, it encourages you to keep going,” Handy said.
Bogard said, “I tell DeMichael that all the time, ‘You keep going because you can lose your house, you can lose your car, you can lose your freedom. You can lose this, and you can lose that. But they can’t take what you know.’”
Hall is now headed toward barber school, a path that felt natural and a way of giving back to his community. Growing up unable to have a haircut or nice clothes often led to bullying, but now DeMichael wants to make sure kids don’t have to worry.
“He wants to make sure that other kids don’t go through, you know, like not having haircuts or being bullied because their hair is not up to par,” Bogard said.
With his high school diploma in hand, Hall hopes to leave a better world for those around him.