Pearl-Cohn students celebrate becoming ‘first’ in their families to graduate high school, attend college

Deondre Woodruff

Deondre Woodruff

Students at Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School reached a special milestone May 20 when the senior class officially became graduates of the historic school.

Among the hundreds of graduates included two Pearl-Cohn students who not only completed their requirements to earn a diploma as high school graduates but also gained the title of ‘first’ in their families. 

Deondre Woodruff will be the first to ever graduate from high school in his family. And Tayonna Ewin, the first to go to college.

While each student took very different paths, their triumphs are an inspiration to their teachers, families and peers. Both have already made post-secondary plans.

Woodruff’s journey has been filled with ups and downs, but with the help of his teachers, he persevered. He said his mother and father are very proud of him for accomplishing something they did not. Both of them, along with his older sisters and brother, never made it to high school graduation – something Woodruff is excited about completing.

“I would just tell everyone to stay in school because of the better opportunities you can have,” he said. “I couldn’t stand going to class for a long time, but you can find some type of class you like and then build a pathway to it.”

That pathway for Woodruff is pursuing his CDL license with the goal of entrepreneurship. He plans to start his own moving company.

Tayonna Ewin

Tayonna Ewin

He said it was the support he received from his teachers at Pearl-Cohn that helped him prepare for the next steps.

“Every teacher pushes you – even when you don’t want to do it and [you want to] give up,” Woodruff said. “They just kept encouraging me.”

Ewin started her journey in private school attending her kindergarten through eighth-grade years before her family decided to enroll her in public school. Pearl-Cohn wasn’t a tough decision for the legacy whose brothers and sisters are all graduates of the high school.

She said the transition from a private school to public school was different, but not difficult.

“When I first came here [Pearl-Cohn] it was very different from what I had experienced in private school,” Ewin said. “It is much more relaxed at Pearl-Cohn and the teachers are more relaxed and understanding. There were obvious cultural differences, but the academic rigor was really at the same level as the private school I had attended. Teachers really care about the students and they are not here just to be here.”

Ewin is a standout student academically. She landed a full academic scholarship because of stellar grades and an impressive 34 on the ACT test and will attend Stanford University in the fall. In addition, Ewin is among only 121 high school seniors nationwide receiving the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s College Scholarship earning up to $40,000 a year – up to four years – to support her education. While she has not yet determined a major, she said her goal is to eventually become an attorney fighting laws and policies that adversely impact lower-income communities.

During her four years at Pearl-Cohn, Ewin participated in a number of activities, including the Debate and Speech Club, DECA, and the ‘I Have a Future Program,’ to name a few. She also participated in Princeton University’s “Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America” program last summer. 

“Everyone needs to find something you are passionate about,” Ewin said. “Don’t worry about what other people say. Just get involved in a meaningful way.”