Suffolk seniors ‘feel nothing but joy’

Published 9:42 pm Monday, June 10, 2019

It was a day of celebration for the Suffolk Public Schools Class of 2019, and the arena was filled with the applause of friends, family and others as their loved ones graduated.

Suffolk Public Schools held commencement ceremonies on Saturday at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk. Lakeland, King’s Fork and Nansemond River high schools graduated more than 900 combined students under bright arena lights and with a bellowing chorus of cheers.

Combined, the three high schools amassed more than $24 million in scholarship offers for their students.


Email newsletter signup

The audience clapped and shouted as loud as they could when the names of their graduating seniors were called. They walked across the stage to shake hands and receive their diplomas, their faces lit up with bright smiles.

“Some of you have been my classmates since elementary or middle school. Some of you I’ve never seen before,” King’s Fork valedictorian Amanda Chen said in her valedictory address. “Regardless, congratulations to all of you. We made it. Today we’ll be graduating, and then afterwards, we’ll be going all off to who knows where.”

Valedictorians and salutatorians thanked their teachers, classmates and family members for their tremendous support. Amanda also thanked her friends for being there for her “through thick and thin.”

“I appreciate you all so much,” she said. “You made my four years at King’s Fork an amazing experience, and I have so many wonderful memories with you all.”

Nansemond River valedictorian Mackenzie West recently asked her classmates what they would remember most about high school. The Warriors ran the gamut in their responses: taking homecoming spirit week pictures, playing spoon tag, juggling grades with athletics, going to soccer games and winning championships.

But mostly, the graduates talked about relationships they had lost and made in high school, and West wasn’t surprised by this answer.

“I myself have made so many new relationships, and even lost a few, throughout my high school career,” she said in her valedictory address. “These were relationships that were made and developed inside and outside of school, including friends, teachers, coaches, and of course our family.”

These were the people that helped prepare them for the future, she said: the peers, mentors and relatives who motivated and encouraged these graduates through each obstacle and hardship.

“Their words inspired us to achieve so much, and to reach higher each and every day,” West said. “Even when it was words like, ‘Stop what you’re doing and go run now’ and ‘This is the hardest test you’ll take this year, so good luck,’ this was their way of pushing us to be the best versions of ourselves.

“They knew we would inevitably fail in some ways, but they also knew that we could overcome these failures. After all, it’s not our failures that define us, but how we choose to use these experiences to shape us into the people we are today.”

In her speech, Lakeland valedictorian Trinity McRae looked back to four years ago, when she and her classmates first entered the “gigantic blue fortress” of Lakeland High School. Like many in her class, she started at Lakeland lost and nervous — and also confused as to why the lockers were red, she said.

Trinity said she hated herself when she first started high school, but in retrospect she really just hated the world without her mother, Angela McRae, in it.

“In 2013, she lost her battle with stomach cancer,” she said to her massive, hushed audience. “My mother was the sun in my small universe, and when she passed away, she took the warmth of my life with her. I was cold, I was lonely, but most of all, I was scared.”

Trinity looked for a way to be closer to her mother and found that comfort at Lakeland. Angela McRae was a single mother of three who worked all day to provide, but “no matter how tired her bones were or how hard it was to keep her eyes open,” she always made time to help Trinity with her homework.

“My goal was not to deliver this speech or be valedictorian. My goal was to simply honor her by doing well,” she said, which was met by a standing ovation from the whole audience.

She felt her mother more and more at school as she worked harder and harder. She felt her love when she joined her “second family,” the Project Lead the Way Biomedical Sciences Program.

“I felt her warmth when I talked with Mrs. McDonald. I felt her compassion when Mrs. Meissel helped me write this speech,” she said. “And today, I feel her joy. As I look down at all of you, I feel nothing but joy.”

The graduates still have a long road ahead of them as they go on to colleges, the military, trade schools and careers, and principals gave final pieces of advice to their students before they left the arena.

Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney also addressed each graduating class with advice — not to scare them, but to prepare them, he said.

Whitney told them to treasure the times they had in high school; to know that people will fade in and out of their lives, and to be confident enough to stand on their own; to understand that being an adult is expensive, and that every choice they make can impact their futures.

He told them to find something that fulfills them and gives them purpose. Don’t be afraid of surprises, and know that they can’t be fully prepared for everything — despite all of this advice and preparation — so just enjoy the ride.

“The bottom line, students, is adult life is hard, it’s challenging, it’s stressful, it’s confusing, but that’s part of what makes this journey and this thing called life beautiful,” he said. “No matter what, this is your story. There’ll be difficult times. There’ll be some mistakes that each of us make.

“Enjoy every single moment, the good and the bad. Don’t be afraid to explore, to be adventurous, to be in charge of your life.

“Dream big, and live bigger, no matter what or where life takes you.”