Virtual School Students Celebrate Their Achievements at Live Commencement Exercise
From left, Christiana McDonald, Rhyan Leatherwood, and Ashley Cooke listen to the UMGA commencement address.
By UM News

From left, Christiana McDonald, Rhyan Leatherwood, and Ashley Cooke listen to the UMGA commencement address.
Virtual School Students Celebrate Their Achievements at Live Commencement Exercise
By UM News
The University of Miami Global Academy celebrates its fifth high school graduation.

From a country music singer-songwriter, to a professional athlete, to a teenage world traveler who has already seen more of the world than many people four times her age, the three students who received diplomas last Friday at the University of Miami Global Academy’s 2015 commencement agreed that had it not been for the online high school, they might not have been able to accomplish their goals.

“I needed to be on the court practicing for at least four hours a day, and then there are gym workouts and rehab time. So a traditional brick and mortar school just didn’t work for me,” said Christiana McDonald, who enrolled in UMGA because it offered the flexibility she needed to take classes while training to become a professional tennis player.

Her father, Rushion McDonald, who flew in from Chicago to attend the graduation, beamed with pride as his daughter accepted her newly minted diploma, commenting after the ceremony that he fully supported her decision to finish high school through UMGA “because it was the only path that could make her dream reality.”

Based out of the University of Miami’s Division of Continuing and International Education and accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, UMGA offers middle and high school courses in online classroom settings that allow for extensive student-teacher interactions. Students hail from all over the world—China, Colombia, Spain, and Sweden, to name just a few—and technology such as Skype and video conferencing are sometimes used to bridge the great distances between students and teachers.

But it still took a bit of convincing to sway McDonald’s mother, Cicely, that the school was right for her daughter. “She was concerned that Christiana wouldn’t get the same academic structure as a traditional high school,” said Rushion McDonald. “She came around, though, and it turned out to be a wonderful experience for both of them.”

Cicely McDonald even moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to support her daughter while she trained for the professional circuit. The 18-year-old McDonald, who first picked up a tennis racket when she was 6, plays in her first professional tournament in August.

“I’m her tutor, nutritionist, psychologist, and chauffeur,” said Mrs. McDonald.

She and her husband weren’t the only proud family members at last Friday’s UMGA graduation, held in UM’s Newman Alumni Center. Mothers, fathers, siblings, cousins, and friends of two other graduates, Ashley Cooke and Rhyan Leatherwood, also attended.

Cooke, 18, and her sister, Jenny, a 2014 UMGA graduate, tour the country as members of the pop-country music group called The Lockets, writing their own songs, singing, and playing musical instruments. “I know that we’ve missed out on things like going to the prom and high school football games,” said Ashley Cooke, “but UMGA has blessed us and will definitely pay off in the long run.”

Allowing for the freedom to travel is what Leatherwood, who has lived in Italy and London, enjoyed most about UMGA. Next year she enrolls in the College of Charleston and is planning to study abroad.

Friday's ceremony was the first time that Cooke, Leatherwood, and McDonald met face to face. 

Isaac Prilleltensky, dean of UM’s School of Education and Human Development, provided a hearty dose of advice, urging the three to help prevent community problems, strive for justice for people who are less fortunate, choose careers that make a difference in other people’s lives, and help promote economic, physical, and psychological well-being.


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