‘This is our time’

Published 10:17 pm Saturday, June 4, 2011

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy graduate Christian Brown celebrates the end of high school as he and his classmates parade across the lawn in front of the school after graduation ceremonies Saturday morning. Eighty-four students at NSA were awarded their diplomas.

NSA, First Baptist seniors graduate

Ninety-three Suffolk seniors graduated from high school on Saturday in commencement exercises held at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy and First Baptist Christian School.

The NSA ceremony, held at 9 a.m. on the lawn in front of the school, featured Old Dominion University President John Broderick delivering the graduation address.

Broderick holds degrees from Northeastern University in Boston and St. Bonaventure University in New York. He is also a board member of the Hampton Roads Partnership and the Urban League.

First Baptist Christian School graduate Helena Peyton Brown receives a hug as she crosses the stage with her diploma during commencement exercises at Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church on Saturday. First Baptist’s second graduating class included nine students.


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Broderick reminded the graduating class of 84 students that “working hard cannot occur in spurts,” and he challenged the graduates to get involved in their communities and make a difference.

“Our apathy today assures that poor people remain poor, homeless people remain homeless and hungry people remain hungry,” he said.

Head of School Colley W. Bell III continued on the theme, encouraging the seniors to “be passionate about life” and “learn how to know how to learn new things.”

“If we do not plant knowledge when we are young, there will be no shade when we are old,” he added.

Celebrating its 39th commencement, NSA awarded diplomas to 54 honor graduates. Class members have been offered $4,065,590 in merit-based scholarships, according to the school.

Many of NSA’s students have plans to attend colleges across and outside of the country. Class valedictorian Bracey Parr, for instance, will attend St. Louis University in Madrid, and salutatorian Jeffrey Ruland will go to the University of Virginia.

Ruland, during his speech to classmates, warned that they should not rest on their laurels after graduation.

“You can be pleased, but not satisfied,” he said. “Today is your moment. Now go have another.”

Parr reminded his classmates that the journey they had taken was a shared one.

“The people around you have shaped you like fine clay, whether you wanted them to or not,” he said.

The First Baptist Christian School commencement was a somewhat smaller affair, as the school had just nine students in its senior class. Held in the sanctuary of Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church, the ceremony leaned heavily on scripture and the spiritual calling of the school’s students and faculty.

Though the graduates would be leaving the confines of their high school, their education is not complete, said the Rev. Michael Turner, interim head of school at FBCS.

“You’re entering God’s advanced school of discipleship for those who would choose to follow Jesus Christ,” he said. “For those of you who would follow Christ, school is always in session.”

Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, whose sister Kacee Griffin had been the principal of the lower school at FBCS until her death in May, delivered the commencement address.

Boykin was the U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and played a role in almost every recent major American military operation, serving in Grenada, Somalia and Iraq. He is currently a professor at Hampden-Sydney College and author of “Danger Close” and his memoir, “Never Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom.”

“From this point on, your life is all about the choices you will make,” he said. “You can make a difference. You, plus God, is a majority.”

The important thing, he added, is to make good choices, choices that reflect values greater than self.

“Your life has to mean more than ‘What’s in it for me?’” he said. “You can make a huge difference in America by making the right choices.”

In only its second commencement ever, FBCS awarded diplomas to three honor graduates and recognized five members of the Susan Glover Chapter of the National Honor Society.

Several of the students have college plans, and some have already made plans to join the military upon graduation.

Valedictorian Katelin Jones praised the school for having helped to strengthen her faith, and she encouraged her classmates to “use the knowledge that God has given us to steer into the future.”

“The sky is the limit,” she said. “Stand up and be bold. This is our time to shine.”

Salutatorian Samuel Barone expressed the thankfulness that he and his classmates had for the education they’d received.

“I thank God for everything He’s done for me and the blessings he has in store for the second graduating class of First Baptist Christian School,” he said.