A few seconds earlier or later, a few feet to the right or left, and Tyrone Carroll would have been on the auditorium stage yesterday with the members of his class at Walbrook High School.
But a year and a week ago, Carroll, 18, was killed by a bullet fired into a crowd outside a Baltimore nightclub. The announcement that he had been named to the national Who's Who Among American High School Students came a month after his funeral.
And so yesterday at Walbrook's Senior Farewell Day -- a time for recognizing students who not only graduate but also do it with distinction -- Carroll's mother, Nancy Middleton, stood on the stage in his place to urge his classmates to join her fight against the violence that has claimed so many of their peers.
At Walbrook alone, five students have been murdered in the past year.
U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings also addressed the seniors.
"When you think about Tyrone and the other people who have been lost, let's take our pain and turn it into something beautiful," said Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat.
Cummings joined Middleton at Walbrook to announce the start-up of People Against Violence of Maryland Inc., an urban counterpart of sorts to the suburban organizations that have used student peer pressure to combat drinking and driving. The fledgling organization has no funding, but Anthony McCarthy, an aide to Cummings, said the group would likely seek grants with the congressman's assistance.
"We will begin by listening to you," Cummings told the seniors. "Young people are killing young people in our city, and we believe that young people must be actively involved in seeking an end to the violence."
Cummings' message found a receptive audience at Walbrook, where the students gathered in the auditorium were there as much as survivors as seniors. Less than a third of the 435 students who entered Walbrook as freshmen stayed in school long enough to graduate this spring.
Rare is the student who does not personally know someone who has been killed in street violence.
"There have been a lot of killings in the area," said Monique DeVane, 18, who plans to major in biology in college. "I lost a friend last year -- he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The school building itself -- floors buffed to a high gloss, the walls bright with new paint -- is a fortress against the dangers that surround it in the West Baltimore neighborhood near North Avenue and Gwynns Falls Park.
Students must use computerized identification cards to enter the building; cards are coded so that alarms sound if the student has been suspended. Teachers walk the halls with wireless "cruise pads" with which they can instantly check a student's schedule. The school is planning to put students' attendance records and homework assignments on an Internet Web page for parents to access with a privacy code.
Doors are locked and monitored during the day; police officers are assigned to the school; security officers watch closed-circuit television at all times.
"We work hard at creating an urban sanctuary," says Principal Marilyn Rondeau. "We want to do everything we can to help these students succeed."
And indeed, of the 138 students who are graduating, 60 percent plan to attend college, several with scholarships. Fifteen students earned an average of 90 or better.
Yesterday's Senior Farewell Day was a time to celebrate these successes, induct National Honor Society members and recognize academic excellence.
For Middleton, it was an especially difficult day, thinking about what should have been. Tyrone Carroll was an honor student; he was on the wrestling, track and football teams; he played in the Westsiders Marching Band. On May 26, 1996, he was outside Club Indigo when gunfire broke out. He died because of that.
"Tyrone would tell them to love one another and not get caught up in the silly things that lead to violence," Middleton said after the assembly. "He would tell them to hold onto their dreams."
Pub Date: 6/03/97