Donnie Bailey is the first in his family to earn a high-school diploma. He donned a cap and gown at the Potomac Falls High School graduation ceremony last week with all but one of his three siblings, his parents, and a grandmother proudly looking on.
“I mean, it feels good. You know what I’m saying, it feels good to be the only one to get a diploma,” said Bailey, 18, of Sterling. “At least I made it through high school.”
Now he has set his sights on a training program at WyoTech in Blairsville, Pa., to prepare for a career as either an automotive or airplane mechanic. His guidance counselor, Charles Smith, said Bailey has interviewed for a job with a BMW dealership and could make $100,000 annually once he completes his education.
Getting Bailey to meet all the academic requirements for a diploma took a team effort, Smith said. “His parents, especially his mother, either called or came in on a regular basis. … She held him accountable for everything he did or didn’t do.
“This was a parent who said, ‘My child has to make it.’”
Smith said Bailey’s teachers also were part of the team, coming in early, staying after school and occasionally making themselves available on Saturdays.
Arthur Carpenter, a driver’s education teacher, would notify Smith when he saw Bailey hanging out with students whose conduct was questionable. Smith would call him in.
“It was almost like the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” Smith said. “This was the village.”
BAILEY SAID he just needed to apply himself. “When I really look at it, it was not that hard. Stick to the books. … Stay cool to the teachers and keep it real with them.”
He said he aims to have fun no matter what he is doing. He admitted, however, there was one point when he wasn’t sure if he would make it.
Bailey said Smith helped keep him on the straight and narrow. "Like, he just kept it real. He told me things I needed to do, and 'You need to straighten up,’" Bailey recalled.
Bailey said he was "trying to play around at the beginning," but Smith wouldn't hear of it.
Smith made his position clear, Bailey said. "If you don't do this and you don't do that, you won't graduate."
Bailey described the counselor as "kind of tough."
"Kind of needed it, you know what I'm saying, somebody on my side."
HIS MOM, Celestine Bailey, said her son accomplished everything he set out to do. “I am the most happiest mother in the world,” she said, after graduation Monday. “I’m very proud. He is the first one out of my four that has ever graduated.”
She attributed his success, in part, to having family support. “He had people behind him, pushing him.”
She credited Smith and her mother, Regina Fisher. “His grandmother especially,” she said. “She is very important to his life.”
Fisher, who lived in Vienna until a recent move to North Carolina, helped raise her grandson. She said she wouldn’t have missed the graduation ceremony for anything. “I wanted to see that David march across the stage,” she said.
She plans to fulfill her promise to help him with the financial costs of college. “From a little baby, all the way up, I kept talking to him about what he could do. … He’s a sweet boy, and I love him.”
Fisher, the youngest of four children, said he probably made it despite the inability of his two sisters and a brother, because the family was closer now and everyone was looking out for him.
As her grandson’s long-time fan, Fisher also attended his football games during high school. At 5 feet 6 inches and 212 pounds, Donnie Bailey was a middle line backer. He was selected Most Valuable Player during the first game of the 2004-2005 football season.
Smith described Donnie Bailey as a teenager who tries to come across as a tough guy, but he is actually a well-groomed and personable young man with great manners.
“He’s the kind of kid you want to reach out to, because you see so much potential there,” Smith said. “He is really going to make it.”