Harding High School's Final Graduation

By John W. Davis

June 10, 2011 Updated Jun 10, 2011 at 10:55 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - It's the end of an era.

Once the premiere High School in East Allen County, Paul Harding High School is officially closed.

"We worked so hard to get here and I'm just ready to graduate," said Harding Graduate Davon Washington. Washington will attend Saint Francis University on a full-ride football scholarship.

"Real excited but nervous at the same time," said Harding Graduate Breosha Dowdell. Dowdell will attend Indiana Tech and pursue a degree in education.

"Extremely excited, especially because we're the last class graduating at Harding," said Harding Graduate Kelci Bryant. Bryant will attend IPFW.

It hasn't always been easy but 117 Seniors at Harding High School graduated Friday night at the Scottish Rite Center in Downtown Fort Wayne.

"Sometimes before I never thought I would really graduate from high school. This is a very big accomplishment for me," said Harding Graduate Colton Dennis. Dennis will attend Ivy Tech and study Culinary Arts in the fall.

"Man it was a lot of work and I'm glad I made it on top," said Harding Graduate & 2011 Valedictorian John Ganaway. Ganaway earned a full ride academic scholarship to IUPUI. He plans on studying Electronic Engineering.

"It's very important to me not a lot of my family has been accepted to college or has gone away to college," said Harding Graduate Criston Maurico. Maurico will attend IUPUI in the fall.

Harding will close next school year and open back up in 2012 as a College and Career Academy. However, no current Harding 9th, 10th, or 11th graders will ever be allowed to go there. They'll be bused across the East Allen County School district.

"It feels good so I don't have to worry about going to no other school and getting used to any other teachers and friends," said Dowdell.

Harding was in it's 5th year of academic probation through the Indiana Department of Education. In state reports, Harding was graded as a falling school. However, Seniors told Indiana's NewsCenter, do not judge them, strictly on test scores.

"If you want an education, you're gonna go out and strive for it and do the best that you can. You're not gonna settle for less than your best and that's how I took it," said Harding Graduate Dion Kimbrough. Kimbrough will attend Indiana University and study Pre-Med.

"I'm very proud of myself for graduating from Harding, since Harding's had such a bad rep in the past. You know they really do have great teachers," explained Dennis.

Meanwhile, Harding will never be the same. District officials have previously told Indiana's NewsCenter that the College & Career Academy is a completely new school. They explained the magnet program at the College & Career Academy is what the district needs to serve future students.

"I feel like it's an honor but it's kinda sad because I didn't want it to be the last Harding graduation. But I'm honored that I can be in it," explained Bryant.

"The last graduating class. It means a lot. We gonna go out with a bang," smiled Maurico.

At the end of his Valedictorian speech, John Ganaway left his classmates with a clear message, "Once A Hawk, Always A Hawk."

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