Southern Maryland Newspapers Online

Polite society; Ball recognizes student accomplishments, honors those in transition

Friday, June 13, 2008

By Susan Craton, Staff writer

Reuben Graves
Reuben Graves, 14, center, participates in the introductions during Saturday's celebration ball at St. James Hall.
photo by Paul C. Leibe

Totally at ease.

Dressed in a tuxedo, Reuben Graves, 14, sat at the long table that was covered in a white tablecloth and decorated with a centerpiece for the formal occasion Saturday evening.

The event at St. James Hall was a celebration ball for the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Village, a program offered by the Institute for Human Growth and Development. It promotes focusing, manners and good character.

Despite the formality of his dress, Graves did not give the impression of being uncomfortable or out of his element as he waited to begin his dinner. He says he’s accustomed to getting dressed up. ‘‘They keep me in church a lot. So, I’m used to it,” he said, referring to his nearby parents, Tara and George Graves III.

He’s also prepared to handle a formal occasion because of his participation in the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Village, he said.

The dinner and ball Saturday night was designed to celebrate the participants’ accomplishments during the year and, in particular, single out those students who will be in transition this coming fall – moving from elementary to middle school or from middle to high school. Graves is one of these students. He is leaving Esperanza Middle School to start Great Mills High School in the fall.

‘‘It’s pivotal,” said Francine Dove-Hawkins, director of the program, of the students’ transition years. ‘‘The children are moving into areas that are truly unknown ... It’s extremely different. [There are] increasingly more voices” trying to get their attention.

Darlene Barnes, a teacher in the public school system who also helps with the Ladies and Gentlemen, said programs like this can help students in that transition. ‘‘They need a village ... working together – family, schools, community – all working together to help the kids be the best they can be ... not just the schools,” Barnes said.

Graves has been participating in the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Village since 2003. ‘‘It’s helped me a lot ... [to] be a better person and respect other people and myself,” he said. ‘‘We go a lot of places. They show us how to eat, proper etiquette ... not to laugh at anyone if they mess up.”

Sitting next to Graves, Warren Thompson, 12, said the program has been helpful to him also. ‘‘It’s improved my grades,” he said.

There is a spiritual element to the program’s approach. The evening began with a group singing of ‘‘The Lord Is Blessing Me,” followed by a blessing of the meal. The Rev. Damien Shadwell, pastor of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, is a regular volunteer with the program and offered the benediction at the end of Saturday’s program. About 100 students and their family and friends were served a dinner, after which there was an introduction of the more than 40 students currently involved in the program. After singing ‘‘This Little Light of Mine,” each student stepped forward holding a candle. Dove-Hawkins would yell out, ‘‘What’s your dream?”

The students, from rising first-graders to those in high school, announced plans to become a fireman, teacher, police officer, lawyer, hair stylist, actor, engineer, doctor, social worker, accountant, architect.

The evening featured a guest speaker, Lt. Zerbin M. Singleton, a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and winner of the Disney’s Wide World of Sports Spirit Award for college football’s most inspirational figure, the FedEx Orange Bowl-FAA Courage Award and the Navy Roger Staubach Award. He was also named the 2006 Academic All-District Player by ESPN Magazine. Singleton, who hopes to become an astronaut, spoke about overcoming a difficult childhood of domestic violence and other obstacles. Singleton’s talk was designed to back up what the program preaches all year.

‘‘Adversity is just an obstacle,” he said. ‘‘Don’t let it stand in the way of your dreams.”

Awards for the year were distributed to the students at the end of Singleton’s talk, with special notice being taken of how they shook the hands of presenters. ‘‘We’re looking for eye contact,” Dove-Hawkins said. ‘‘We’ve been practicing handshakes.”

Students noted for entering a transition year included elementary-to-middle school students Darrick Allen, Jasmine Smith and Jacob Taylor; and middle-to-high school students, Jasmine Collins, Graves, Donald Shubrooks and Derek Smith. These students were given jewelry provided with the assistance of G&H Jewelers. Awards were also given for students voted as role models, most improved and those who represent the spirit of the program.

The biggest award announced at the ball each year, however, is the lady and gentleman of the village. ‘‘The students choose,” Dove-Hawkins said of the honor. ‘‘But I have the right to rescind their vote, because I don’t want it to be a popularity contest. And they have to give justification for their choice.

”The students voted Donald Shubrooks as gentleman of the year. There was a tie for lady of the year, with the honor going to both Jalisa Harden and Ashley Thompson.

Bonnie Elward, who initiated the idea of bringing a ladies and gentlemen’s club to the county, also participated in Saturday’s ball. She said she’s still a believer in the program as she watched the students dance in the center of the hall near the program’s end.

‘‘I think it’s important for young people to celebrate their successes,” Elward said. ‘‘They are validated by the adults around them. But they’re also validated by their peer group.”