Six students walk one more time through Open Door

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

On just his graduation day, and Open Door School student Michael Lake was already looking towards his future.

“I’m going to be working at Tri-State Industries, so I can make lots of money,” said Lake, which got a big laugh from the crowd.

Luckily for Lake, and the five other students who graduated from the school on Wednesday, the staff of the Lawrence County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities has been looking toward the future long before tassels had been turned.

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“You’re forward looking here always, all the back to primary,” said MR/DD superintendant Paul Mollett. “It isn’t a goodbye like a graduation in high school. We’ve been preparing for years.”

Unlike other schools, not all Open Door students graduate at the same time. Students are individually judged as to how well they’re reaching the goals that have been set before them. Although some graduate at 22 (when they must leave the school) many are ready to move on much earlier.

In this class, Brandon Nichole Arbaugh, Michael Lake, Amanda Littlejohn, Stephanie Matney and Benjamin Slone will be going on to Tri-State Industries, another MR/DD program where students with disabilities can find work.

Lest one think that’s the only option, graduate Kimber Brickey soon will start work at Bob Evans.

Normally, a move into the working world would be quite a shock to the students that had become accustomed to having the trip to Open Door as part of their daily routine, but Mollett said that they’ve trying to compensate by introducing the students to their new workplaces slowly.

“Most have been in transition for a year, and their classes have actually moved into the sheltered workshop, or wherever they’re going to be going,” Mollett said. “It’s not like today they graduate and Monday they’re at Tri-State.”

Even though it’s been decided that the students are ready, Mollett said it doesn’t make it any easier to say “Good bye.”

“I get a little emotional, some of them have spent their whole life here,” Mollett said. “It’s a mixture of pride and sadness, but mainly it’s happiness to be able to see them accomplish in a special environment like this.”

Of course, the graduates had little time for the sentimentality that Mollett was experiencing, but as Brickey closed the ceremony with a beneditction, perhaps she revealed how much their long-time home had meant to the students.”

“Dear Heavenly Father, please watch our graduates, keep them safe, protect them from harm, guide them safe and sound, love us, protect us, heal us and keep the school safe.