Turning the tassels

Published 9:23 pm Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lakeland High School graduates and staff raise their hands in “L” shapes as they sing the school’s alma mater just before leaving the gymnasium on Saturday morning. It was the first of three graduation ceremonies for Suffolk Public Schools.

Schools graduate about 960 in Class of 2012

The senior class president of Lakeland High School, Summer Griffin, told her classmates on Saturday, “2012 has proved that our dreams can come true.”

Graduates at King’s Fork High School celebrated with smuggled beach balls and Silly String just after turning their tassels.

Nicholas Rondeau used his mortarboard to send a message to his father during his graduation ceremony on Saturday at King’s Fork High School. His father currently is out to sea with the U.S. Navy.

Principal Thomas McLemore of Nansemond River High School wiped away tears after handing a diploma to his son, Joseph, and embracing him tightly to the roar of a cheering crowd.


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As Superintendent Deran Whitney told each of the three ceremonies, “What a wonderful day to graduate from high school.”

The Suffolk Public Schools graduations sent roughly 960 new high school graduates out into the world in a series of three ceremonies on Saturday. (To see more photos from the graduations, click here to go to our Facebook page.)

Whitney, the guest speaker at each of the commencements, challenged the young adults to create a vision for themselves.

“A vision helps you pursue dreams and achieve goals,” he told the graduates. “Vision helps you know why you’re doing the things that you’re doing. When you create a successful vision, you will become passionate about it.”

Without a vision, he cautioned, “Life becomes just an order of events, one thing after the other.”

Students who spoke during the ceremonies seemed to have a firm grasp on their visions already.

“It is important to discern the difference between knowledge and wisdom,” Lakeland High School valedictorian Sarah Peelen said. “Knowledge is the tool, and wisdom is the craft for which the tool is used.”

Nansemond River High School salutatorian Alyssa Sperlazza, left, and valedictorian Ernestine Powell wait for the celebration to begin.

“Our lives are only beginning,” said Kayla Culbertson, Lakeland salutatorian. “We have to keep setting goals and pushing forward.”

The Lakeland High School class of 2012 earned more than $974,000 and counting in scholarship money, Guidance Director Sheila Williams announced during the ceremony.

At King’s Fork High School, the co-salutatorians drew the inspiration for their speeches from unlikely sources.

Sharon Farrell said she turned to YouTube because she had “no clue where in the world to start” writing her speech. After watching several valedictory and salutatory addresses, she realized they were all saying the same things. So she wound up taking her own path after all.

“We have survived so far,” she said. “Nothing can possibly stop us now.”

Ravynn Stringfield peppered her speech with quotes from Disney movies.

“We have the potential to go to infinity and beyond,” she said, channeling Buzz Lightyear from the “Toy Story” movie trilogy.

Valedictorian Ethan Gould challenged his classmates to live in the present.

“Your world is what you decide to make it,” he said. “There are so many ways to feel alive, and we are so young.”

King’s Fork graduates earned about $2.8 million in scholarships, Guidance Director Charlene Jerlin announced at the commencement.

Nansemond River graduates earned a roughly comparable amount — about $2.9 million, according to Guidance Director Deborah Williams.

Nansemond River salutatorian Alyssa Sperlazza sought to inspire her classmates.

“Hard work, dedication, a little luck and motivation can take you anywhere,” she said.

Valedictorian Ernestine Powell reflected on the many memories the class had shared — a snowstorm; an earthquake; the “death of MySpace and rise of Facebook.”

“This is not an ending, but the beginning,” she said. “Think of graduation not as goodbye, but as ‘see you later.’

“See you later, Class of 2012.”