‘Thank you for the memories’

Published 7:50 pm Saturday, June 8, 2013

Debi Brooks gives new Lakeland High School graduate Brittany Brooks a big hug. The commencement ceremony at the school Saturday was a celebration of the fruits of hard work for Brittany Brooks and her classmates.

Debi Brooks gives new Lakeland High School graduate Brittany Brooks a big hug. The commencement ceremony at the school Saturday was a celebration of the fruits of hard work for Brittany Brooks and her classmates.

SPS graduates seniors

By Matthew A. Ward and Tracy Agnew
Staff Writers

Suffolk Public Schools sent 1,011 students into the world Saturday, diploma-equipped and ready to strive for greatness.

At King’s Fork, Nansemond River and Lakeland high schools, graduates cried, listened to speeches, walked (or sometimes danced) across the stage, posed for pictures, wrangled bunches of balloons and prepared to leave the gymnasiums as adults to take on the world.

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Superintendent Deran Whitney urged the graduates to remember five words that start with “C” — communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and compassion.

“The five Cs spell success in a big way,” he told the class of 2013.

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Courtney Sharpe, right, helps Deja Thompson adjust her mortarboard before the beginning of Nansemond River High School’s graduation on Saturday.

King’s Fork High School’s gym was a sea of maroon and white as graduates were called forth to receive what they’ve been working toward for so many years.

But one graduate’s seat was empty, save for a single white cap and gold honor cord. Principal Suzanne Rice explained the regalia-draped chair was in honor of Amanda LeGrand, who died suddenly in February.

Rice advised the graduates to “demonstrate a good work ethic and treat others fairly and with kindness — those are the qualities that will take you far in life.”

Valedictorian Laura Smith called on her fellow graduates to look to the future. “No matter how tempting it is to think of the rest of the day or the rest of our lives, I would like to challenge all of you to resist that temptation and focus on right now,” she said.

Graduates had achieved more than just passing through school and earning a diploma, according to Smith: “We are knowers, for we have learned and displayed the power of education.”

Smith paid tribute to school staff, School Board members and district administrators, saying, “We are enclosed by a massive amount of love, support and encouragement that through the years has served as the foundation for us to grow.”

An elated Kyla Gentry-Spears sits among the 349 graduates at King’s Fork High School.

An elated Kyla Gentry-Spears sits among the graduates at King’s Fork High School.

Salutatorian Alexis Brueggeman joked that she had procrastinated in formulating her speech — “one last homework assignment.”

“I would have to say that, if anything, high school teaches you how to get it done,” Brueggeman said.

“From homework, to projects, to applications, or even just to getting up on time, we did it all. So it’s with great pleasure that I say to my fellow peers in the class of 2013 that we did it. We have accomplished what we set out to do.”

King’s Fork High School graduates earned scholarships worth more than $2.4 million.

The class of 2013 at Nansemond River High School scored a similar total, netting more than $2.5 million.

Salutatorian Sydney Glover put a theatrical spin in her speech.

“We’ve spent the past four years preparing for this last curtain call, for this one moment when we are released into the world,” she said. “All the world’s a stage. Now let’s be the players preparing to step into the spotlight.”

She reflected on singing the last note in the final performance of “The Little Mermaid,” sitting in government class and choking back tears as she threw the last pitch of the last game of her last softball season.

“We’ve played our parts to perfection, and now it is time to be cast as new players … It is time for us to pen our own scripts.”

Valedictorian Sara Gallagher used most of her allotted speech time to recognize her classmates’ thespian, musical, athletic and academic accomplishments, drawing applause after each sentence.

She joked that she used to think that high school was “just like middle school, except all the guys have beards.”

“I thought I was being clever, but what I didn’t realize is how wrong I was,” she said. “High school is so much more. In high school, we learn who we are and what we love.”

Gallagher said she learned in her government class that she likes politics enough to major in political science.

“None of this would be possible without the guidance, assistance and support from our teachers, coaches, directors, school board, guidance staff, administrators, friends and families,” she said.

Principal Thomas McLemore encouraged the Warrior graduates not to take life too seriously.

“A job and a plan for the future are important, but so is living life,” he said.

The gym at Lakeland was packed with family and friends of graduates, eager to see them pass into life’s exciting next phase. The Lakeland grads won scholarships totaling more than $1.5 million.

In between jokes, Lakeland valedictorian Matthew Bradshaw counseled his fellow graduates to be flexible — if need be — in their plans for the future.

“Though we may have been sure we were going to be the president in elementary school, we must come to realize that dreams are meant to change, and perhaps a platform of free ice-cream and improved playgrounds just won’t cut it,” he said.

With the power of greater independence comes “great responsibility,” he explained. “But despite any hesitations we may have, I know that we can do it.”

Lakeland’s salutatorian, Kasey Askew, reflected on the practical lessons she has learned from her teachers, such as patience.

“Often times there will be someone down the road that gets on your every nerve, whether it is your boss, your parents or your spouse,” Askew said.

“As an adult, it is your responsibility to keep your poise and have patience.”

Thomas Whitley, Lakeland’s principal, told graduates to “take time to dream, because dreams become reality.”

“As your principal, I want to thank you for the memories,” he said.

See more photos from the ceremonies on our Facebook page: King’s ForkNansemond RiverLakeland