(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)
More than 150 students and their parents were in attendance as local leaders and educators offered brief sessions on nutrition and physical fitness, school rules, and attendance. Students then received gift bags full of supplies needed for the new school year and were treated to a brown-bag lunch.
Older students were treated to some straight talk regarding setting goals and taking responsibility for their decisions from James Claybourne, a Gilliland volunteer who is manager of human resources for the Bedford County school system.
He emphasized to students that support is available.
"We are here for you in the school system, and in the community. Don't wait until your junior year to start thinking about school, start thinking about it now," said Claybourne.
"We love every one of you, we love you to death. I don't want you to fail -- but it's all on you. You make all the decisions."
Terry Looper, student services supervisor, updated the students on this year's new attendance and tardy policies.
"Part of my job is to make sure you are in school until you are 18. If you don't go to school, there are consequences for you and for your parents," he said.
"If your child is not graduating, there is something seriously wrong," said Looper to the parents in attendance. "We have a lot of resources within our school system. We have technology that makes other counties around us envious."
Graduation coaches Gayle Gragg and Linda Yockey spoke to students about the school curriculum and reinforced the Commitment to Graduate initiative.
Incoming freshmen this year will be required to complete 22 hours of course credit, instead of the previous 20.
Most of the support for the event came from area churches and schools as well as the Boys and Girls Club, Claybourne said.
The Gilliland Center is reorganizing this year, with a mission to continue to commemorate and preserve the heritage and culture of African-Americans in Bedford County, as well as support increased awareness of other cultures.
The Gilliand House on Lipscomb Street is named in honor of James Gilliland, a self-taught stone mason who constructed many homes, fences and foundations in the late 19th century. He was renowned for his abilities in the detailed stone work used in window and door openings, chimneys and decorative trim.