Shanta Swinton has had a lot of tough words for her son over the past four years.
There was anger and frustration when Charles Rorie was arrested for robbery in the summer of 2013, and more tough talk when he was arrested again a year later. Her strongest words came last year, when she didn’t think Rorie was applying himself enough in school, even as he sat at home awaiting a court date and wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet.
“I told him he was about to be homeless,” Swinton said. “I was going to kick him out.”
On Wednesday, their words for each other had a different tone. Rorie, wearing a black cap and gown with a yellow tassel, looked over the crowd, made eye contact with his mother and smiled.
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“I want to give a special thanks to my mom,” he told the crowd. “We go through a lot of stuff and we continue to go through stuff, day in and day out. But I’m learning to respect her views.”
Rorie, who graduated from Independence High in February, was one of 17 teens honored during an emotional ceremony for youthful offenders who’d returned to high school, exchanging jail uniforms for caps and gowns. The event was held at First Baptist Church West, just north of uptown.
While in jail or awaiting trial, the youths took classes as part of the jail’s high school program or at Turning Point Academy. They also took life skills classes to help them make better decisions.
“You took a potentially negative experience and you turned it into a positive outcome for yourself,” said Sheriff Irwin Carmichael, one of the speakers at the ceremony. “You had to do the work to change. And you had to do the work to make your goals.”
Rorie said his mother was a constant voice in his ear, encouraging him to change a lifestyle that led to three arrests in his teenage years. The experiences of his peers also pushed Rorie, who wants to go into the music industry.
“I came close to dropping out,” he said. “I had to push myself to do the curriculum. I saw people going into the same pattern. This guy got shot. This guy failed out of school. I was just like I didn’t want that for myself.”
Swinton said she felt the graduation ceremony was a sign her son was taking charge of his life.
“I felt like he came so far,” Swinton said. “I felt like now, finally, he could begin to put this behind him and focus on his future.”