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Wilson County Schools conveyed diplomas to graduates at three public high schools Saturday as families and friends gathered to support the accomplishments of the seniors moving on to the next chapter in their lives.
Hunt High School
As students in the Hunt High class of 2018 gathered for commencement, football coach Keith Byrum gathered his team in the cafeteria.
“What you have is great. Make good choices,” Byrum said. “Be good men.”
The team joined together for a prayer.
Den’Nis Williams, who is going into the Navy following graduation, found a place to herself to reflect.
“I’m nervous,” Den’Nis said. “I’ve never really been out of school.”
“It’s been like a really hard journey, but I’m glad it’s here,” said Kayleigh Anthony-Coats, who plans to attend Campbell University and double-major in math and forensic psychology.
“Parents, you should be proud of this group of seniors,” said Principal Eddie Doll. “I look forward to hearing about all the great accomplishments of the Hunt High School class of 2018.”
There was no commencement speaker for the ceremony, which saw 304 graduates receive diplomas.
But the school’s top students had words of wisdom for the class.
“Take time for your family,” said valedictorian Milinie Ngo. “Take time for your friends and take time for your hobbies.”
“We should be proud of ourselves for where we have come and where we are going,” said salutatorian Jordan Kirby “Don’t be influenced by the expectations of others.”
Joshua Lee Baker said the realization that he’s a high school graduate took a while to sink in.
“It hasn’t hit yet,” Baker said. “In the end, I got into school I wanted. It was tough, but it was worth it,” Baker said.
Superintendent Lane Mills told the graduates they would be ambassadors for Wilson County.
“Where ever you go from here, I want you to know you will always be representing the Wilson County Schools family,” Mills said.
Beddingfield High School
Principal F.T. Franks said the real heroes on commencement day were the teachers at the Beddingfield High.
“Our mission as educators is to prepare our students for the next chapter in their life,” Franks said.
Addressing the 40th graduating class at Beddingfield, Franks told the 169 graduates that they were the first class born entirely in the 21st century.
“A class that has never known a world without laptops or cellphones or text messaging or Facebook,” Franks said. “And while this class can find any information on Google, they might look sideways if I ask them to find anything in a dictionary or a telephone number from a phone book.”
“With all of the changes they have been through, we can only imagine what the future holds for these graduates, what they will do and what they will experience,” Franks said.
Commencement speaker Dawn Forbes Murphy, a 1979 Beddingfield graduate who is the assistant vice chancellor for student development at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, told students they can be anything they believe.
“If you can dream it, you can be it,” Murphy said. “It’s OK to change your mind and move in another direction.”
Murphy said it’s critical for grads to be honest with themselves when analyzing their capabilities.
“When life gives you lemons, make chocolate cake and let people wonder how you did it,” Murphy advised. “Be prepared to go the distance. Nothing fundamentally good comes without hard work.”
Valedictorian Jonathan Leyson told his classmates that “everyone here has something valuable.”
Graduate Teysha Armstrong thought she would never get to graduation.
“I moved around a couple of times, and I finally made it,” Teysha said. “I went from Red Oak to Rocky Mount, Rocky Mount to Nashville, and Nashville to Wilson.”
Armstrong is going to North Carolina Central University to study business as an entrepreneur.
Graduate Marleny Martinez was caught up in the moment.
“It just feels very emotional that I was able to accomplish something despite all that I have been through,” Marleny said. “I am finally able to walk across that stage.”
Marleny will attend Wilson Community College for two years and transfer to Barton College to study nursing.
“It’s really exciting because I never thought I would make it this far,” said graduate Natasha Edwards. “I just want to push forward and succeed.”
Edwards will be attending Pitt Community College to earn her associates degree in fine arts and hopes to become an illustrator.
“I was ready to graduate,” said departing senior Jaylan Payne. “I was ready to leave.”
Jaylan has joined the Army and will be a chemical equipment specialist. He spent his high school preparing by taking part in the Army Junior ROTC at Beddingfield.
“I have mixed emotions,” Jaylan said. “Sometimes I am nervous and sometimes I’m not.”
Fike High School
At Fike High School, 275 graduates walked across the stage to receive diplomas.
“This new chapter will take us to many paths taking us to many separate ways,” said senior class president and student government president A.J. Gunter.
A.J. rattled off a few statistics, such as 6 percent of Fike grads were enlisting in the armed services, 11 percent would be starting a career and 82 percent would be pursuing postsecondary education.
“Most importantly, our football team never once lost to the Hunt High School Warriors,” A.J. said.
“This world needs people like us, people like you,” A.J. said. “We have left our legacy on this school and now it is time for this school to leave its legacy on us.”
After being introduced by co-salutatorian Abby Hodges, co-valedictorian Claire Dixon told the graduates she would not be where she is had she not failed at some things.
“Through failure, I grew as a student and as an individual,” Claire said. “Failure can either define you or develop you.”
“We have all experienced failure,” Claire said. “The most important aspect of failure is that we move forward despite those setbacks.”
“I hope that you readily accept the challenges ahead of you,” Claire said. “Take your failures in stride.”
Co-valedictorian Cassie Jones was introduced by co-salutatorian Ken Lin.
Cassie told graduates to be fearless and focus on the positives.
After thanking parents, friends and teachers, Cassie told the graduates to leave an impact on the world and find what sets their soul on fire.
“Find your passion and never stop chasing it,” Cassie said. “I challenge you to be fearless and work toward a greater purpose.”
Faith Church said she looked forward to life post-graduation.
“It’s nerve-racking, but very exciting,” Faith said.
Faith is planning to attend East Carolina University and study fashion merchandising.
“I’m excited to start a new journey,” Faith said.
Jermaine Best said it is great to graduate.
“I’m going to advance to the next level in life,” Jermaine said.
He plans to attend Wake Technical Community College.
Graduate Reginald Edwards said he enjoyed his time at Fike, but now it is time to move on to a new career as a signal support specialist in the Army.
“It was really good just to be able to get through the experience and have a story to tell,” Reginald said.