The teen walked up the stairs to the stage at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium on Saturday to some of the loudest cheers heard during Brainerd High School's commencement. The noise signaled that one student managed to beat the odds.
Jumoke Johnson Jr., 18, was the first in his immediate family to graduate from high school. He attended Brainerd, where one third of students drop out and only half manage to graduate in four years.
"I feel real good about it," Johnson said. "I don't want to end up another statistic and end up in the penitentiary."
Many of Johnson's 11 younger brothers and sisters occupied a single row in the auditorium. His mother, Shantele Landmon, also attended. His grandparents, Arthur and Anna Johnson, wept throughout the ceremony.
"I never thought this day would come," Anna Johnson said.
Family members planned to send word to his father, who is in prison in connection with a murder. Eighty percent of children who have incarcerated parents will end up locked up, said Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Correction.
Many didn't expect Johnson to graduate. He is documented by police as a Rollin' 60 Crip leader and faces 12 charges ranging from assault to drug possession. He was placed on house arrest to give him a chance to graduate from high school.
Getting his diploma means there is hope he will be able to escape life on the streets and go on to college, he said. He has been accepted into a couple of community colleges but hopes to join the Navy.