VALDOSTA -- One Lowndes High School senior overcame years of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of his schoolmates to graduate Thursday night.

Eighteen-year-old Nathan Morgan's metamorphosis from bullied "nerd," as he describes himself, to honor graduate was made possible by a group of teachers at Westside School, Lowndes County's alternative school. One Westside teacher, Richard Olphie, learned of Morgan's mainstream troubles and offered a helping hand and an alternative educational atmosphere.

That moment changed Morgan's life forever.

"They put me on a positive path from the moment I walked through their doors in the sixth grade," he said. "They loved me there and nurtured me. They encouraged me to grow and succeed. There, I started turning the 'I can'ts into the 'I cans.'"

At Westside, Morgan said he was able to pursue his academic dreams in a stress-free environment. He no longer had to worry about being hit with rocks on the playground, having his glasses stolen or broken or being teased.

Of course, Morgan admits that he was an easy target. He was extremely thin and frail during his younger days and wore thick eyeglasses due to his 20/200 vision in one eye and no vision in the other. Plus, he was intelligent.

"It all started in the third grade when I moved here," said the son of Gary and Linda Morgan. "I never understood why. I had no friends."

Before then, Morgan was the typical elementary school student. He loved to attend class and learn new things. He simply could not get enough.

"Once everything fell apart, I started making up excuses not to go to school," Morgan added. "I did whatever I had to do to ensure I never had to go back. I really hated it."

Things only escalated as the years passed by until Morgan was a sixth grader. One day in April of that year, he recalls a confrontation with the "bullies." It all ended with Morgan's hand being held down on a hot plate in the school cafeteria.

"That's when I lost it," he said. "I started fighting back. Previously, I would only try to defend myself. This time, I wanted to hurt them."

Morgan left his mainstream middle school. He was broken and on the verge of destruction. He felt as if the best part of him had been ripped away.

Besides the teachers at Westside, another person helped Morgan rediscover his passion for living, learning, and loving. His name was Darrel Scott, the father of one of the girls, Rachel Scott, killed in the Columbine incident.

"After hearing him speak, I knew I had to let all the anger go," Morgan said. "I realized that I was heading down the same path as the two boys who killed all those people. I did not like that about myself. I was not about to let some local bullies do that to me."

Morgan dedicated his walk across the graduation platform to the memory of Scott. Inadvertently, her tragic story was his salvation.

"If I had continued down that path of hate, I would not be where I am today," he continued. "I would not be graduating with honors. I would not be the man I am today."

Morgan plans to attend Devry Institute and study computer technology. He dreams of becoming a computer programmer.



To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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