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Jerry Davich: Gary teens graduate from college, then high school

Updated: June 13, 2014 6:02AM



Ahronia Bandy did her best to act like a college graduate, but the high school girl inside came out anyway. And wonderfully so.

“I knew I could do great things with my family’s support and help. And not just be like an average student in school,” she told me, her eyes darting the air for just the right words as I video recorded her.

“I wanted to be above and achieve more than most teenagers and, uh, most children,” she told me before busting into a laugh. “Sorry, I messed that up. Can I say it again?”

No, you were perfect, I told the 18-year-old Gary girl Saturday morning as she giggled with her friends, Nyesha Canady and Shakira Burks, inside the crowded Genesis Convention Center. There, the Gary teens waited for the pomp of the Ivy Tech Community College graduation ceremony though their circumstance was far from typical.

They are part of Ivy Tech’s dual credit agreement program, earning enough college credits since their freshman year in high school to earn associate’s degrees in general studies. I didn’t know this was even possible until Canady’s mother contacted me last week.

“We here so many disparaging things in the news surrounding our city, but Gary is making a tremendous comeback under the reign of Mayor Freeman Wilson,” Theresa Canady told me. “I wanted to let you know about something good.”

Something good? More like something great.

“My daughter is planning to attend Ball State where they will accept about 95 percent of these credits so, instead of her going in as a freshman in the fall, she will be at or close to a junior’s status,” Canady said.

The three girls are seniors at the 21st Century Charter High School in Gary, where they will graduate from next month. Yes, after they graduate from college, so to speak.

On Saturday, they bustled with hundreds of other Ivy Tech grads while proudly sporting their ceremonial caps and gowns. They were just as excited. They were just as accomplished, for their age. And they were just as nervous. (Watch the video at http://posttrib.suntimes.com/news/davich/index.html.)

“I don’t want to trip on stage or anything,” Nyesha Canady admitted with an anxious smile.

“I couldn’t sleep at all, trying to getting my hair done, family coming to town, finishing touches, whew!” Burks said while fixing her hair.

“I’m excited, but it’s a relief that everything is finally over. We did it,” Bandy added, rolling her eyes.

Canady, who’s just 17 and plans to pursue a degree in actuary science, has six siblings, only two who have attended college. Her father, Samuel Young, recently died.

“We moved to Gary about five years ago and being at 21st Century Charter has been a great experience for me,” she said, noting her extracurricular activities including basketball, cheerleading, volleyball and track.

“I also visited Beijing, China as part of our Mandarin studies,” said Canady, who also is a member of the school’s Student Leadership Council and National Honor Society.

She and Burks are in friendly head-to-head competition for the school’s valedictorian spot with just one decimal point separating their grade point averages.

Bandy quickly credits her family and parents, Malika and Ronnie Bandy, for her premature educational accomplishments.

“They have been my biggest motivators and cheerleaders,” she said. “My mother and father encouraged me to stay on track and take advantage of all these brilliant opportunities offered to me.”

Her biggest fear has been becoming “just another statistic,” or known as just another average teen.

“It didn’t always come easy. I had to sacrifice a lot of time to get my work done,” she told me before the graduation ceremony.

Canady’s mother radiated pride for her daughter while swirling around the center. She did so with only one shoe. She carried the other one, which broke a few minutes earlier.

“It’s OK. I have another pair in my car,” she told me. “I came prepared.”

Obviously, just like her daughter and the two other young ladies who will be leaving Gary prepared for their promising futures.

Too often when it comes to good news out of Gary, outsiders habitually wait for the other shoe to drop. Not this time. Not with this story. Not for these college-educated grads who once again remind us of the city’s deepest resource – its youth.

Jim Dandy’s closing

I’m sad to say that Jim Dandy’s ‘50s-styled restaurant in Hobart is closing its doors at the end of this month.

“We lost our lease,” Jim “Dandy” O’Kelly, 72, told me on my latest Casual Fridays radio show.

Billed for years as the “Cadillac of Burgers,” Jim Dandy’s has been a family owned and operated eatery for 25 years. A fixture in this region, most lately on U.S. 51 across from St. Mary Medical Center. A time capsule, glorifying “hipsters, flipsters and finger-poppin’ daddy’s,” as the menu boasts.

O’Kelly still flips burgers in the evenings, his son, Bryan O’Kelly is the chief cook, granddaughter Stephanie a waitress, and his long-time wife, Linda, still part of the business. But no more.

Their restaurant will soon be replaced by another burger joint, I’m told.

“It’s a sad time for us and for many of you. We will miss all of you,” states a flier inside the restaurant. “Maybe with God willing and the favor of fortune, we will find another place.”

That’s unlikely but I hope so. Too many mom-and-pop restaurants in this region are struggling or closing. I suggest one last visit to Jim Dandy’s before it’s gone for good, like so many other Northwest Indiana landmarks that now only serve up memories.

Connect with Jerry via email, at jdavich@post-trib.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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