People told Jonathan Kitchens he would be in jail by the time he was a high school senior. Despite negative comments and criticism, Kitchens walked across the stage at Pershing Park Baptist Church on Saturday and graduated with about 40 other students from Transformative Charter Academy.

“It feels very good because of the fact that I had people in my life who said I wouldn’t graduate,” Kitchens said. “But here I am.”

Kitchens spent the last month of high school at the charter school, where he said teachers encouraged him to focus on his work and graduate on time.

“At my last school, I got in some altercations so I thought it was in my better interest to go to a different school,” he said. “Graduation is something that every teenage high-schooler looks forward to. With all the challenges and obstacles that came my way, I’m proud to say I’m graduating.”

Elva Chase, the school’s board president, said the school is a program to allow students to receive their diplomas when the traditional high school system didn’t work.

“It was established to give dropouts the opportunity to become socially acceptable and not a statistic,” said Chase, before introducing Elizabeth Brown, the guest speaker.

Brown is working on her master’s degree at Texas A&M and said the school transformed her life from that of a disadvantaged youth working two jobs, to a high school graduate in 1999.

“Like you, I’ve had my fair share of challenges, obstacles and trials that had to be overcome in order to get to this point today,” she said.

“But I stand here before you as a testimony that today is just the first day of the rest of your lives.”

Despite people telling Kitchens’ he wouldn’t graduate high school, he walked away with a diploma Saturday.

“Now that we’ve graduated, it doesn’t mean our journey ends here,” he said. “I’m planning on going to The Art Institute of Austin to study culinary arts and photography.”

Contact Sarah Rafique at srafique@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7549. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

I'm the education reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald. Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SarahRafique

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