967 graduate from SPS
There were quotations from Jimmy Buffett and Gen. George S. Patton, from Disney’s Stitch and from high school teachers.
And when it was all said and done, 967 new graduates from the Suffolk Public Schools system had walked across the stage of the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk.
With King’s Fork High School’s 325 graduates leading the way at 9 a.m., the school system celebrated its biggest day of the year on Saturday in the air-conditioned comfort of the indoor venue the School Board chose to host Suffolk’s graduation ceremonies.
Nansemond River High School’s 388 graduating seniors took the floor at noon, and Lakeland High School’s 254 grads wrapped up the day at 3 p.m.
They all heard a similar message from School Superintendent Deran Whitney, who told them, “Today is a celebration and a day to say thank you.”
He then quoted Gen. Patton, who said, “Lead me, follow me or get out of my way.”
“There are times in life when you will lead … times when you need to follow … and times when you will come across someone who needs to get out of the way,” Whitney explained.
“There is nothing wrong with being a follower of a good leader,” he added. “You cannot always be a leader in every situation. In order to be a good leader, you must also be a great follower. And if you are one of those who impedes progress … you really need to step aside.”
“Go make Suffolk Public Schools even prouder,” he charged the groups.
Whitney had a special message for retiring Nansemond River Principal Thomas McLemore Jr.: “I want to personally thank Mr. McLemore for 17 wonderful years at Nansemond River High School.”
McLemore drew cheers of “Mr. Mac! Mr. Mac!” as he took the stage at the end of his school’s ceremony.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s never been abut me. It’s always been about the kids.”
The kids in this class of Warriors earned $8.3 million in scholarships and grants this year, according to school officials.
Turning his attention to his final words to this class, McLemore said, “Make a difference in something in your life and you will be successful.”
Quoting Jimmy Buffet, he then gave them insight into what life will be like: “Some of it’s magic, and some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way.”
One group of NRHS students — the baseball team — missed the ceremony while creating a little magic of its own. After winning the school’s first state baseball championship, team members donned caps with tassels, turned the tassels and then threw them into the air. At the ceremony in Norfolk, the team member’s names were called to applause from all in the arena.
Comparing school to the video games many graduates enjoy playing, NRHS valedictorian Dixie Cox said, “I wouldn’t go so far as to say graduation marks the end of our game. Rather, it marks the end of the tutorial. We’ve surpassed the first roadblock and learned the princess is in another castle.”
Graduates from King’s Fork High School also surpassed that roadblock, and they earned nearly $2.2 million in scholarships by having done so, according to school officials.
“Do not see this graduation as the end of your journey, but as the beginning of a life,” Valedictorian Elizabeth Childs told her classmates.
Principal Ronald Leigh had some advice for his graduates before giving them the go-ahead to turn their tassels: “Listen first and talk later.”
“I know you have a diploma and you think, ‘Well, I know this,’” he added. But life after school is different, he said.
“Life is going to test you first and then teach you the lesson.”
He concluded his remarks with one last important lesson about money.
“Credit cards are not free money,” he said. “Just say no.”
Five students from Lakeland — Bryan Branch, Emily Foster, Cierra Gilmore, Paula Steward and Maya Lavallais — were honored during that school’s ceremony for having completed the lessons needed to graduate with their high school diplomas while also enrolled in Paul D. Camp Community College’s dual enrollment program, through which they received associate degrees before high school graduation.
Seniors from LHS also picked up $2.6 million worth of scholarship offers, school officials said.
Principal Douglas Wagoner encouraged his graduates to “know what it means to be content.”
“There’s nothing wrong with finding a life balance that allows us to be at peace,” he said. “It’s more important to want what you have than to have what you want. Your futures are as bright as you choose to make them.”
Valedictorian Christopher DeFreeuw told his fellow graduates to dream big.
“The question is, what do you want to do with your passion. How high do you want to set your goals?” he said.
Answering his own question, he added, “Set your goals so high, you not only will rock the world, you’ll cause an earthquake.”