“The future of our community, country and world are relying on your leadership,” said West Ashley High School principal Lee Runyon in his opening comments at WAHS’ Class of 2015 graduation ceremony. And while he was clearly speaking to the entire 388 students who were receiving their diplomas last Wednesday, he could have easily been speaking directly to one student — Jerome Smalls, who’s leadership at WAHS over the past four years has been inspiring to his classmates, teachers, and anyone who has had the pleasure to meet the young man.
There’s just something about Smalls. Something you can’t help but cheer for. Sure, he was a top-10 student during his career at West Ashley High, where he graduated with honors. But Smalls wasn’t valedictorian, or even salutatorian. Philip Gee and Carly Lancaster earned those honors, respectively. They will attend Clemson and USC, again, respectively.
Smalls’ SAT scores were solid. Not incredible, but solid. He wasn’t president of the student body. But he was Mr. West Ashley High, homecoming king, and the “Voice of the West Ashley High School” every morning on the intercom.
Smalls, whose name is ironic stacked next to his impressive size, played football, but didn’t start until his senior year. And he won’t be competing in sports at the next level, like some of his teammates will.
Connor Wohnig has signed with USC-Lancaster in baseball. Lexi Thompson will play softball at Charleston Southern. Ashleigh Bennett will swim for Cleveland State. And Jordan Merritt has signed to play baseball at the Citadel.
Some of his classmates will be staying close to home to go to college next year at College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina, South Carolina State, and USC-Beaufort. Not Smalls.
Some will be heading out-of-state to further their educations at big state schools like Auburn and UNC-Charlotte. Not Smalls.
An even dozen are looking to military futures. James Hurley is going Navy ROTC at the Citadel, while Alvin Johnson will head to University of Texas for Army ROTC.
Four classmates, Connon Amon, Christina Bohn, Travon Seels, and James Williams, are going directly into the Navy. Kadauris Guess-Simmons will head off to the Air Force and Brandon Milan to the Marines. The U.S. Army will welcome three WAHS graduates: Spencer Clark, Shanique Hills, and Christopher Pownall. And one, Avion Wiggins, will go to the Army National Guard.
But not Smalls, whose classmates voted him Most Likely to Be a Big Success.
No, he is heading off to the nation’s capital, where he has been accepted to Georgetown University and a package of scholarships will make his college education about as close to a free ride as possible.
Smalls, you see, is a complete package. In his early teens, he copied his hardworking grandfather by setting up his own company, HandyKid. He later parlayed that success into being named the state’s youth entrepreneur of the year through YESCarolina.
Smalls has rung the opening bell on Wall Street at the New York Stock Exchange, starred in plays at school, grew WAHS’s Distributive Education Club of America (DECA), and organized the school’s first 5K run/walk. During her graduation commencement speech, salutatorian Carly Lancaster said of Smalls, “You will become famous. You will change the world. And you will be rich.”
Besides the admiration of his fellow students, Smalls has also collected a sizable adult fan base. He credits CTE teacher Phillip Beyel with pointing him toward Georgetown after his first choice wait-listed him.
Former state representative Jimmy Bailey became enamored with Smalls after the student’s entrepreneurial vein was exposed as part of competitions for YESCarolina.
Current North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey proclaimed July 28, 2012 “Jerome Smalls Day” in his town.
And lately, Smalls, who holds down a job at Chick-Fil-A, has been lucky enough to be able to count U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) as a mentor. That relationship could come in handy while both are in the nation’s capitol.
Politics, Smalls said, may interest him in the future, but he will focus on marketing at Georgetown.
Again, Smalls might not have been the top student with the absolute best grades or standardized scores in his graduating class of 2015 at WAHS. He didn’t letter all four years in multiple sports. And he’s not going to Harvard. Or Stanford..
He’ll have to settle for the 21st best college in the land, just behind University of California — Berkeley and one spot ahead of University of Virginia on this year’s U.S. News and World Reports ranking.
And while this year’s graduating class only brought in $3.8 million in scholarships and financial aid – half of what last year’s class amassed, according to school officials – Smalls’ brought in $65,000 a year for four years.
So, sometimes you have to take the excellent with the merely exceptional. It was that kind of year for Smalls and his 388 classmates.

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