By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 25, 2015
SHARPSBURG—As a senior Justin Triggs tended the vegetable garden and six cats and dogs on his family’s 14-acre Sharpsburg property, apprenticed in a photography studio, and completed high school through the Faith Academy independent study program to graduate as valedictorian among some 450 other students.
He also supported his parents as they cared for his younger brother facing illness.
Justin began the accredited, independent study program in 10th grade after attending Northgate High School for his freshman year. Students report to the Stockbridge campus to turn in assignments, meet with teachers and take exams. Initially he struggled to discipline himself and adapt to less social interaction, but he said he learned to stop procrastinating and block out time for schoolwork and other responsibilities.
When he learned about becoming the 2015 valedictorian, to quiet his nerves he got to work writing his speech where he described each person as a sprout in the garden of life.
“The more prepared I got for it, the less anxious I was. It actually went very well,” Justin said.
His message was “do whatever you do the best that you can, and do it for God. I get up every morning and go outside and try to go about my day for God by following the teachings of my faith and being a good person.”
Justin is the son of Deborah and Michael Triggs and a member of St. George Church in Newnan. He switched to Faith Academy in 10th grade after getting strep throat and falling behind in a class. His favorite subject was physics; he enjoyed learning principles and laws of how things work. He also likes fixing computers and said that as early as sixth grade, teachers would pull him out of class for his IT expertise.
“A lot of people say I’m really good at fixing their computers,” he said. “I’ve always been the kind of person where I like to fix it myself and I can’t really tell other people how to fix it.”
Justin plans to take a year off before starting college while continuing his photography apprenticeship.
“I want … to do some volunteer work and get a job and save up some money and decide where to go from there,” he said.
In the community he has photographed everything from elementary school dances to the Relay for Life fundraiser. He particularly loves photographing nature and animals.
“I feel like with photography I can capture something, how I see it. They say that pictures are worth a thousand words, but I think it’s worth more than that because there are so many things that you can see that are indescribable.”
Deborah Triggs said his independent study gave him the flexibility to pursue photography at an earlier age. He saved up to purchase a high quality SLR camera.
“He truly loves doing it. He has a very talented eye and is very gifted in his ability to see something and transform it into a print,” she said. “He has his camera everywhere he goes.”
‘Character … marked by persistence and integrity’
Faith Academy’s Stockbridge campus administrator Kim Avent said Justin is a role model for other students and graduated first among over 450 graduates from its four Georgia campuses and online program.
The school, founded in 1987, draws students from many backgrounds, some already working to support parents or start careers, others facing illness or those like Justin who just want to avoid “all the drama of public school,” she said.
“Our program is an independent study program, and it requires a lot of dedication and responsibility on the student’s part. He was always very enthusiastic and dedicated to that. The course load of subjects and classes he took required a great amount of study time, and he always did that and performed with excellence,” Avent said. “He took initiative when he needed assistance. The teachers always spoke very, very highly of him.”
She found his maturity, attitude and curiosity to be refreshing.
“His character is just really marked by persistence and integrity,” she said. “He was able to have an intelligent conversation with us all. He was just a joy to be around. He’s very strong in his faith. We were just delighted to have him here. We couldn’t speak more highly of him.”
Justin participated in youth ministry at St. George and has taught Vacation Bible School, photographed events and played saxophone in the choir. A member of St. George’s Boy Scout Troop 242, he said he learned valuable life skills like money management and this year earned the rank of Eagle Scout, building two book-return drop boxes for his old elementary school.
“I definitely recommend it to anybody looking for something to try and help him find his way,” he said.
His mother believes the independent study model suited his more reserved personality and said that he has maintained close friends from Northgate, attending prom recently. The program also has a Christian foundation that is nicely balanced in, she said, adding that their top choice would have been Catholic school but that it was unaffordable.
With two brothers and a sister, Justin has also provided critical help at home. Both his brothers have cystic fibrosis, and his younger one faced many health struggles this year. Justin’s the lead gardener in growing their assortment of squash, zucchini, corn, bell peppers, spinach and other veggies.
“I have a child who’s been in and out of the hospital this year and he’s been wonderful helping get his sister to and from school,” Deborah Triggs said. “Justin helps us keep the house running. We have an outdoor garden that he keeps maintaining. He gets up and waters the garden, harvests the vegetables. He tends to our animals. He does a lot around the house and he’s very modest.”
Justin is simply glad to help out and better appreciates now all his parents have done for the family. In discerning his path he’s ready to embrace the challenges ahead, as he wrote in his graduation speech.
“We must always strive to cultivate a healthy sprout in our lives. We feed it through bettering ourselves; we water it by giving of ourselves and giving to others; and we fertilize it by loving like Christ and sharing that love with others. … Let His light shine through you so that others may see His goodness. Now as we go forth to pursue our dreams I challenge you to grow and make your sprout count so that when it comes time to harvest you can say, ‘I grew to my full potential.’”