NSA welcomes 74 to alumni ranks

Published 9:38 pm Friday, May 25, 2018

The 74 Nansemond-Suffolk Academy graduates walked onto the front lawn of the Pruden Boulevard upper school campus with band music playing and clear skies in the breezy Friday morning.

Hundreds of siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles sat in chairs behind the graduates for commencement ceremonies, clattering with applause and camera flashes.

While many were thinking about what was ahead of them, Student Council President Kaylee Moore looked back to the past few years of morning rushes down Pruden Boulevard, of waiting for the traffic light outside the school to turn green, with the clock steadily ticking past 8:10 a.m. as she prepared an excuse for why she was late to homeroom.


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She admitted that she hasn’t even glanced at her clock when she’s made the trip to school recently.

“While this could just be because I’m less likely to run late when I’m not up late studying every night, I’m leaning towards the idea that I’m trying to soak up all the memories that we have made here,” Moore said.

She recalled middle school years walking laps around the concrete track with her classmates and basketball, football and other high school sports that brought all of them together in the student section. The sport didn’t seem to matter, she said; they just enjoyed rooting alongside each other.

Salutatorian Owen Firnstahl looked back at those same years with his classmates and shared some lessons he learned from a few of them. Lifelong friends taught him always to say how you feel, and teammates showed him to work as hard possible for those that have your back.

He learned to help others without expecting anything in return, to work your butt off to reach your goals and to surround yourself with positive people that push you forward while simultaneously reminding you not to take things too seriously.

Moore, for example, showed him how you can smile and laugh no matter the situation.

“Her mood is infectious and can cut through any awkward silence,” he elaborated. “If Kaylee says something and starts chuckling, no matter how painfully unfunny it is, I will 100-percent join her.”

That positive thinking was especially useful for all their hard work over the past four years, even if some of that work was poorly planned.

“We became maestros of every teacher’s nightmare: procrastination,” valedictorian Upasana Barot said with a smile. “We have transformed procrastination into an art, which is even more remarkable when we consider that our final product is typically a masterpiece.

“Some of our best research papers were written at 2 a.m., on the due date. Right, Mrs. Jenkins?”

Through all the caffeinated nights, the class of 2018 earned $3.8 million in scholarship offers and was accepted to 113 different colleges and universities, Head of Upper School Kimberly Aston said. They will attend 42 different schools from the East Coast to California and across the ocean to Scotland.

“Basketball coach Bob Knight said ‘the will to succeed is important, but what’s more important is the will to prepare,’ and the class of 2018 is well prepared,” Aston said.

Nine Commended National Merit Scholars sat beside future pilots, doctors and artists in the school’s blue and yellow, Barot said. She urged her fellow students to show their families that they appreciate the immense support that helped them become NSA alumni.

She thanked her mother, father and uncle for everything they had done for her.

“We sit on the shoulders of those who have sacrificed for us,” she said. “Simply saying thank you does not make us grateful. Each of us has the personal responsibility to act upon these two words and appreciate the sacrifices that have been made for us.”

Dr. Scott Miller, president of Virginia Wesleyan University, gave the commencement address on Friday. He remarked that he was just looking over his university’s graduates during last Saturday’s commencement ceremonies with the same hope for what they can do to better the world.

Miller had good news and bad news for the class of 2018. He explained that the journey ahead of them was going to be fast and complicated, with problems that are growing increasingly complex as time goes on.

But the bad news is not insurmountable, he said. These problems just can’t be solved by themselves, which is where this year’s graduates come in.

“Think that one person can’t make a difference? Think again,” Miller told the audience. “History is filled with heroes — single individuals that are famous or perhaps never known widely at all — who indeed made a difference. Undoubtedly, many of you have already made a difference to others.”

The NSA graduates have an adventure ahead of them, but as Moore told her classmates, they had already finished an adventure together when they received their diplomas on Friday.

Thinking about all the reading projects, research papers and seemingly endless collections of formulas and theorems, Moore referenced J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

“’But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend,’” she recited. “’There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a 12-foot mountain troll is one of them.’”

“I think we might find that we have knocked out our own version of a 12-foot mountain troll, and we certainly can’t share something like that without becoming friends along the way.”