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Ron Clark Academy graduation surprise guests: Romeo, Nickelodeon star Keke Palmer

Ron Clark with actress Keke Palmer after Ron Clark Academy's graduation ceremony Sunday night at Ferst. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Ron Clark with actress Keke Palmer after Ron Clark Academy's graduation ceremony Sunday night at Ferst. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

I interviewed Atlanta educator Ron Clark six years ago while he was promoting a TNT movie “The Ron Clark Story,” starring Matthew Perry of “Friends” fame. He had written a book a few years earlier, which sold in huge numbers after Oprah Winfrey featured him.

Clark impressed me as a dedicated, imaginative and wholeheartedly energetic teacher who truly wants to change the world. To do so, he built the Ron Clark Academy in a sketchy part of Atlanta near a recycling plant and a prison. He raised all the funds privately five years ago and now his academy houses 80 middle school students and a staff of 20. Those students, who travel all over the world and learn math, science and history through music and other unconventional means, have become globally-infused, articulate young men and women, ambassadors for the Ron Clark way of learning. Thousands of teachers from around the world visit the academy, which is an incubator of sorts.

His third class of 20 graduated from four years at RCA this past Sunday with a three-hour ceremony focused heavily on their accomplishments but peppered with star power as well. Last year, Nelly and Fantasia came by. This year, KeKe Palmer (”True Jackson” on Nickelodeon, “Joyful Noise” and the upcoming “Ice Age: Continental Drift”) and rap star Romeo made surprise appearances.

More than 1,300 people showed up to the Ferst Center: family, staff, corporate donors, community supporters and educators from all over the city. Several of the students gave inspiring speeches. A few sang. One danced. Videos showed the students over the years and trips they took to New York City and Japan.

By next year, Clark hopes to have his next graduation in his own space. His school is trying to raise $4.8 million ($3 million so far) to create an educational training facility on land neighboring the Ron Clark Academy and donated by BB&T. If he can get the fundraising done by the fall, he said they can break ground in October and have it ready by June 2013.

Palmer, the actress, visited RCA in January and was so touched, she said she’d return in June for  graduation. Clark didn’t think she’d actually do it but she not only showed up and performed “Man in the Mirror,” she hung around until the end to see the students personally.

Romeo brought his dad Master P to the event, since it was Father’s Day. Clark’s staff had reached out to Romeo’s manager. At first, it was a firm no but when he heard about it, he was all for it, already familiar with Clark’s school.

Nobody knew Romeo was going to be there except Clark and one other person. One of the students was told just before she came on stage and gave a feint: a video of Romeo wishing the graduates well. Instead, he showed up on stage. (Unfortunately, I got there too late to witness Romeo and Palmer’s performances.)

Keke palmer with alums

Aujahuna Smith, KeKe Palmer, Desia Kirkley and Ahjahnae Colson backstage. The three students graduated from RCA in 2010 as part of his first class.

Tajee Barnes, one of the RCA graduates, sings "Easy" by the Commodores. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Tajee Barnes, one of the RCA graduates, sings "Easy" by the Commodores. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Ron Clark is looking to expand his academy so by 2013, he hopes to have his graduation in a new building.

Ron Clark is looking to expand his academy so by 2013, he hopes to have his graduation in a new building.

2012 RCA graduates pose after getting their diplomas.

2012 RCA graduates pose after getting their diplomas.

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7 comments Add your comment

marymac

June 20th, 2012
9:04 pm

GREATTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I would just like to know when and where the ceremony takes place each year……….I would like to attend.

Archer1109

June 21st, 2012
8:40 am

not enough press…. this should be on AJC front page….

pw

June 21st, 2012
12:12 pm

Why is this story not on the front page. We need to celebrate those who are doing the right thing instead of allowing thugs the glory of seeing themselves or the havoc they cause, dominate the news.

Jw

June 21st, 2012
1:26 pm

Forever Jones is not mentioned but was there and was beautiful and inspiring!

Jw

June 21st, 2012
1:30 pm

Forever Jones- “He wants it all”

Tara

June 22nd, 2012
2:55 pm

I would like to clone Mr. Clark. He is exactly what this country needs–creative, inspired teachers looking for imaginative ways to improve education. I feel like this “teach to pass this test” system is failing students and educators. Far too many great teachers are getting burnt out. Congratulations to the graduates, and great job, Mr. Clark.

Theresa prince

June 26th, 2012
12:47 pm

My grandaughter Jordan Still will be graduating in the class of 2013,I Love Ron Clark and his vision for all children no matter where they are. I hate to see her 4 years end but I know she will be prepared for whatever life throws her way. Thank you Mr. Clark and may God bless you.