AUGUSTA, GA (WFXG) - There were cheers and tears of celebration today at Paine College as close to 300 students graduated Sunday morning. The graduation comes not even a week after two shootings on the campus out one student in the hospital and another in jail.
Valedictorian Michael Gardner graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA, and he and says this moment is a dream come true.
"It's surreal you know, it hasn't hit me yet. I'm just still….just trying to relish the moment," he says with a smile.
Gardner says despite the shootings last week, the Paine community came together when they needed to most.
"We're a community here, we're a family. I believe the tragedy brought us closer and it stimulated comradery here," says Gardner.
Dr. George Bradley, the school's president, addressed the shooting in his opening speech, and asked for the community to help pray for the students.
"We pray for the safety and the care of all members of the community and ask that God watches over all of us," he said.
Michael's family said they felt safe today at the graduation, and were able to enjoy the celebrations.
"Feels like victory and celebration it felt really good. They all really seem like a family, so it felt really good, a family celebration," says Pamela Gardner, Michael's mother.
"We didn't have to worry about looking over our shoulders or trying to figure out if somebody is being suspicious. Everything has worked out well today," says Winston Gardner Sr., Michael's father.
And Michael has some parting words for future and current Paine College students.
"Control what you can control and let God handle the rest,"he says.
Michael begins his journey on to grad school for accounting…but says he will never forget his time at Paine.