For Henderson senior, graduation is second chance
SALISBURY — Trayvon Richardson used to be the troublesome kid who had no future.
He was suspended multiple times from South Rowan High School for behavior problems before getting kicked out for good.
He said he has also spent time in jail and juvenile detention after being charged with drug possession, firearm possession, breaking and entering and armed robbery.
But this Saturday, Richardson will proudly graduate from Henderson Independent High School. He plans to go on to college and study social work, so he can make a career out of helping others like him.
“I never would’ve thought that I’d be graduating,” Richardson said. “Graduating high school is a big accomplishment in my life. I’m really proud of that.”
When he was just 9, Richardson said he started to get involved with gang members and stayed with them for several years.
“I was just making bad decisions in my life... because all of my friends looked up to me for that,” Richardson said. “I thought it was cool.”
At South, he would get in trouble for things like coming in to school drunk and high or getting into fights. He was suspended permanently for making gun-related threats toward the school.
Richardson said his perspective — and his life — started to change once he came to Henderson in October. Public schools in Rowan County refer students who are permanently suspended to the alternative school to see if the smaller class sizes and more focused attention will help them.
At first, he figured he would just drop out eventually. He didn’t think he could escape his reputation; his peers thought he was an aggressive, violent person and a drug dealer.
“I started realizing that I should have never been doing any of this in those past three years of my high school,” Richardson said. “I should have been worried about my grades. I shouldn’t have been worried about what my peers were thinking.”
But as spent more time at Henderson, he realized that the staff there really cared about the students — even the most difficult ones — and made an effort to reach out and help them.
“That’s when I realized, hey, maybe this isn’t my last chance,” Richardson said. “Maybe I can still make a change in my life.”
Soon, he started talking to his guidance counselors and his teachers about what he needed to do to graduate. He focused on his classwork and felt motivated in school for the first time in a while.
Counselor Jenna Quintana said Richardson uses a lot more self-control than he used to, and his decision-making skills have “improved tremendously.”
“He has a clear plan for his future and how he’s going to get there,” Quintana said. “When he started, it didn’t seem like he knew what he wanted to do. Now it seems like he’s more mature.”
She said Richardson could go weeks at a time without attending school when he first started at Henderson. Now, he’s at school every day.
“All my life, people have told me that I wasn’t going to amount to anything... or I was going to be dead by 18 or 19 years old,” Richardson said.
Now, he said, those thoughts just push him forward to meet his goals and prove them wrong.
Richardson said he is also motivated by his one-year-old son, Jaden, who lives with his mother but sees Richardson often.
He works odd jobs to help provide for Jaden. Richardson said it’s important for him to stay in his son’s life, because “teens and adolescent kids need their fathers.”
It was just after his own father left when he was 9 that Richardson started hanging out with gang members and committing crimes.
He said his mother and stepfather have tried to get him on the right track, but it wasn’t until recently that he started to listen.
“My mom has been basically through hell and back with me... and she sticks with me side by side,” Richardson said. “(My stepdad) was trying to be the father I never had.”
Richardson’s mother, Laurie Phillips, said she’s proud of her son and is happy to see him earn a high school diploma.
“There was a point that I didn’t think he was going to graduate,” Phillips said. “I thought he was going to say he didn’t want to go to school no more.”
But in the last several months, Richardson has gotten his priorities in order and his “head on straight,” she said. He has been focused on graduation and what he wants to do in the future.
“I’m glad he turned himself around,” Phillips said. “It shows no matter what a child goes through, they can turn themselves around if they really want to.”
Richardson said he is excited for graduation on Saturday, and he is not going to stop there.
He plans to go to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and then transfer to a four-year university to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.
He said he wants to work with the Department of Social Services, Piedmont Behavioral Health or a similar agency to help troubled youth.
“I want to help keep teenagers in school and better themselves,” he said.
Richardson, who played football while he was at South Rowan, said he realizes now that the past four years could have been completely different if he had made better choices.
“I could be in my regular high school,” he said. “My grade point average would be a lot higher than what it is, and I could probably have a scholarship.”
Richardson said he hasn’t seen his old friends in a while. He said like him, they joined a gang seeking power, money, girls and approval from their peers.
But while he’s now getting ready to put on a cap and gown, many of them have dropped out of school. Some are now in jail or addicted to drugs, and the rewards they were after are no longer in sight.
Richardson said he wants other young people to realizes that the decisions they make now will affect them later on in life. There’s still time, though, to start making good choices and turn their lives around.
He said if he saw his old friends, he would tell them, “You need to get back in school more. You need to stop doing drugs. That’s a life of destruction, and you don’t want it. Go home, listen to your mom and listen to your parents. You can do better, get a job and take care of yourself.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.