East Paulding High senior joins graduation despite risky prank

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PAULDING COUNTY, Ga. - An East Paulding High School senior says walking with his class was a "really great moment" after a prank almost cost him his graduation.

Jake Zimmerman, 17, took part in a senior prank where he painted a skull and a crossbones on the school's driveway. But he said he knew things were getting out of control.

"I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. It was a bad situation and me and my friend just wanted to leave," Zimmerman told Channel 2's Carl Willis.

After he left, other are students seen on surveillance video tagged cars, buildings and signs.

All involved were slapped with a felony.

Zimmerman, an honor student, was suspended for the rest of the year and almost lost out on being named valedictorian.

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But Saturday, Zimmerman received his medal and the school's top honor, although he was not able to give a speech.

"It hurt me a little, but I still got the award," he said. "I still know in my heart that I'm valedictorian and I still got the title I'm just really happy about that; that they didn't take that away from me."

Zimmerman he does feel sorry that he was present for the prank but he and his attorney believe the punishment was heavy-handed.

"To tell a kid that's worked as hard as Jake has and accomplished the kinds of things Jake has that you're not going to be able to walk the line with your classmates, that you're not going to be able to get the valedictorian medal that you earned is just wrong," said Lester Tate, the Zimmerman's family attorney.

Twenty-four teens  face felony charges in the case.

Tate said he got pre-trial diversion allowing him to pay restitution and do community service, as well as have the charges dropped.

Zimmerman's family has filed a lawsuit to recoup lawyer fees.

 Zimmerman said he's just eager to close this chapter, and ready to start at Georgia Tech where he'll study aerospace engineering. 

"This isn't going to affect me. I'm just going to go to college. I'm going to start my life there and this will be in the past."


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