Gary Lew Wallace marks final graduation
By Carole Carlson email@example.com June 11, 2014 8:52PM
Bianca Stewart enters the graduation with the processional at the Lew Wallace STEM Academy commencement in Gary, Ind. on Sunday, June 8. | Taylor Irby/for Sun-Times Media
Lew Wallace fight song
Hail to Lew Wallace
Hail to Lew Wallace,
Fight for her fame;
Keep her colors flying,
Glorify her name;
We’re loyal Lew Wallace,
To us you’ll e’er be dear
And to the colors of black and gold,
Cheer, Lew Wallace, Cheer!
Updated: July 13, 2014 4:28PM
GARY — The 101 new graduates of Lew Wallace STEM Academy walked into history Wednesday as the Class of 2014 became the school’s final graduating class.
Last week, the school board voted to shutter the aging school in the heart of Glen Park at 415 W. 45th Ave.
Despite a $6 million infusion of federal improvement money in the past three years, Lew Wallace couldn’t shake its “F” grade status with the Indiana Department of Education and it faced state sanctions for six straight years of poor academic performance.
That made Lew Wallace an easy target for closure as the board grappled with shuttering schools because of a growing $27.3 million deficit fueled by a declining district enrollment and a new state funding distribution method. Property tax caps and a low property tax collection rate compounded the financial crisis.
Lew Wallace’s shabby physical shape also led to its downfall. Opened in 1926, the school is named after Civil War general Lew Wallace, also the author of “Ben Hur.” Its newest feature, a gymnasium, opened in 1972.
Lew Wallace’s closing leaves the Gary Community School Corp. with two high schools — the West Side Leadership Academy and the specialized Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts Academy. A third high school, Roosevelt, was taken over by the state in 2011 but could return to the district’s control in 2016.
The school board may reopen Lew Wallace as a citywide middle school, but the board hasn’t made a decision yet.
Meanwhile, Wednesday’s commencement was a typical one with parents cheering their kids on and speeches encouraging graduates to dream big and take risks.
Salutatorian Richard Spann’s words resonated with the audience as he recapped his high school years, saying: “I’m happy to be alive because at any moment your life can be taken away from,” he said in apparent reference to the violence students experience in the city.
Valedictorian Nevia Buford earned a 4.1 grade point average and a scholarship to Indiana State University in Terre Haute where she’ll major in English.
After they flipped their tassels, the graduates posed for photos and received hugs from their parents.
Classmates Demetria Hope, Asia Lollis, Alyza Dennie, and Dahjanae Mays will attend Vincennes University together.
“Lew Wallace has a lot of memories,” said Mays. “I’m proud to be in the last graduating class. It will always be in our hearts,” she said.
Carey Moore and his grandmother, Veronica Simmons, shared a hug and talked about their school. Simmons is a 1979 Wallace graduate.
“I’m going to miss Lew Wallace, I really will,” said Simmons. She said she’s still proud of winning the “Spirit Stick” in her freshman year, signifying the class with the most spirit at a basketball pep rally.
Parent Tina Jackson watcher her son, Rashad Jackson, pick up his diploma and talked about the school.
“It was a school in the community that I believe gave kids a proper foundation. It’s like a monument in the community. I think that’s why it’s so special.”