PITTSFIELD -- Thirty graduating high school seniors from the Pittsfield area were honored on Saturday during the ninth annual graduates event organized by the Women of Color Giving Circle (WOCGC) of the Berkshires.

The event honors students of color with certificates and a stipend to give graduates a head start for their future. To be eligible, students had to submit an essay detailing their work and their need for the scholarship.

"This is our largest turnout yet since our inception in 2004," said Martique Jackson, who welcomed the community to the event, held in the ballroom at Spice Dragon Restaurant.

"We hold this event at a time when the dropout rate is still very high in this country for African American students," said Yvonne West, who chaired the event and served as mistress of ceremonies.

The theme of this year's ceremony was "Developing your passion and purpose."

Speakers and distinguished guests included Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Karen Cole of the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership and Berkshire United Way and Shirley Edgerton, director of the Youth Alive Step troupe and the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program for young women of color.

Youth speakers and alumni included Nakeida Bethel-Smith and Destiny Saunders.

Saunders reminded students that college life offers opportunities to achieve through academics and to be distracted by partying. During her first year at Mitchell College, Saunders said she succumbed to the latter.


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"I made bad decisions, got bad grades, failed all my classes and was kicked off dance team. I was mad because I realized I couldn't be mad at anyone but myself," said Saunders. "Luckily, I was given a second chance."

She graduated with a bachelor's degree in 2012, and with a dance team honor, only after choosing to focus on her school work and life goals.

"Stay focused," Saunders advised graduates. "Fun is good but books are first. Keep it moving."

WOCGC member Tanya Edwards also introduced former Commissioner of the state Dept. of Early Education & Care Sherri Killins as the keynote speaker.

Presentations were also made by Frances Jones-Sneed of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Berkshire Community College's Eleanore Velez and WOCGC member Sherrie McGregor.

Graduates of honor:

Prudy Whalen, Eukeria Asamoah, Seth Carthon, Adjoa Boateng, Chris Grant, Lawrence Jackson, Caitlyn Ger-waski, Ludwig Jean-Louis, Donovan Hillery, Bridget Forson, Trayvon Sims, Devon Davis, Ebony Jean-Louis, Ty-riek Shaquille, Hamilton-Ridley, Roseline Benle, Valerie Smalls, Jocelyn Moody, Paul Green, Tajaye Davis, Jamer Jones, Jessoca Koomson, Bahati Mweze, Autumn Bigelow, Breanna Meyers, Bintu Konteh, Tatianna Guity, Derrick Saunders, Shanell Robinson, Christopher Carr, Traylee Harrington