Ernest Appiah, known affectionately as the “Mayor of Carrboro,” will be graduating from CHS this year.
Appiah’s nickname stems from his compassionate personality.
“He is one of the few individuals in life that truly brings happiness wherever he goes,” said System Level teacher Melissa Barry. “And it makes you smile.”
When Appiah first started at CHS he was unable to speak.
“I have in my notes the day that he spoke three words and the day that he spoke four words,” said Barry. “We had cards with topics of conversation to try to get him to communicate. He can now springboard his own topics of communication.”
Appiah, who turned 21 this year, has aged out of his free public education and will start working at OE Enterprises this summer. OE is a supported work environment where Appiah will perform contracted work such as delivering mail and packaging soil kits.
“I’m excited,” said Appiah “But I’m going to miss my teachers.”
Barry and Appiah began their Carrboro careers on the same day six years ago. And, over the years, Barry and others have seen Appiah grow tremendously.
“When he first started communicating, he would only communicate within the classroom,” said Barry. “It has been one of the most miraculous things to see his community grow, to see his confidence grow and now we refer to him as the ‘Mayor of Carrboro.’’’
Many CHS students share fond memories with Appiah.
“This one time I walked around with Ernie to deliver cupcakes to the faculty, and he walked so fast I could not keep up with him,” said junior Millie McGuire. “It was so funny. He was on a mission to deliver those cupcakes!”
The hardest part of Appiah’s transition will be leaving his Carrboro family behind.
“Leaving is never a pretty thing,” said Barry. “It is an emotional process that the students go through for months.”
Barry described her students as family.
“When someone graduates, it’s really hard for the rest of us,” she said. “We feel it for a whole year afterwards, at least.”
For the next month, in preparation for Appiah’s new job, Barry and her colleagues will be working with Appiah to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“I do social stories with him so he can see what’s going to happen,” said Barry.
On June 7, students and staff will hold a graduation party and ceremony for all students graduating from Ms.Barry’s class.
“I’m going to bring my graduation cake with my name on it,” said Appiah. “And my mom’s going to make chicken wings and fried rice.”
Even though Appiah will be graduating, he will leave a lasting impression on faculty and students.
“Ernest is my ray of sunshine,” said Barry. “When he smiles I can’t help but smile, and I think that is an incredible gift.”
Ernest Appiah with his teacher, Melissa Barry. Photo by Mireille Leone