Nansemond River: ‘Take a moment, soak it in … You did it’

Published 9:37 pm Monday, June 14, 2021

More than $3 million in scholarships and grants from colleges and community organizations — so far.

More than 11,000 hours of community service, despite not having it as a requirement.

Acceptances from 70 colleges and universities — including from Harvard and the United States Military Academy at West Point — and 510 special seals on their diplomas.

For Nansemond River High School’s class of 2021, these are just a few of their accomplishments highlighting their time there.

School Board Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck told graduates and their families that their graduation, and their accomplishments, are proof that their tax dollars have been effective. She delivered a similar message at the day’s other two graduation ceremonies.

“Open your eyes and see for yourself,” Brooks-Buck said. “Your investment is right here in front of you. The individuals who receive diplomas today will keep this city, this state and the nation alive and thriving for years to come in existing fields and career fields yet to be created.”

In addition to graduating high school, Marcus Green earned an Associate in Arts and Science in General Studies from Paul D. Camp Community College, earning magna cum laude status for having a 3.5 to 3.799 grade-point-average there. Green also earned the $333.33 Superintendent’s Scholarship.

Though speakers acknowledged the tumultuous time for the 414 graduates — as listed in the commencement program — due in large part to a coronavirus pandemic, they touted the resiliency of students, and their families, in navigating a changed learning environment.

Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III touted the Project Lead the Way engineering program, the Teachers for Tomorrow program and sweeping the city championships for football, field hockey, golf, cross country and volleyball.

Valedictorian Alyssa Cadua said she has learned over the past four years to live in the moment, even as many struggle to do just that, often worrying about the future and spending time working to quiet those worries.

“While it’s important to work towards a desirable future,” Cadua said, “if we’re not careful, we will sleepwalk through our entire lives, spending our days dreaming for the next thing to happen without realizing that we’re in the middle of what we once looked forward to.”

Her secret for staying on the path to success: learning to celebrate every moment and every victory. She called on students “to be diligent in living presently.”

“We must realize that success is not something we are perpetually chasing,” Cadua said. “Rather, it is something we must look for every day. Each moment of every day gives us its own successes, whether it be big or small, and we should never pass up the opportunity to celebrate.”

Salutatorian Arpan Sathiabalan said his high school experience was filled with confusion about who he was, his values and who he wanted to become, but along the way, he learned a bit about who he is.

He said he could not have envisioned being on stage speaking at graduation when he was a freshman.

“My gaze was far lower and my ambition was limited,” Sathiabalan said. “I was afraid to push myself to my limits because I did not know who I was.”

His transformation began in Amy Blyth’s Advanced Placement European History class. He recalled her challenging him to fight for his grades if he wanted to succeed in school.

Though he adjusted academically, he also grew in other ways, saying he learned that friendship is accepting one another in spite of differences, and learned to stay true to himself through all of this.

Sathiabalan told his fellow graduates this is a new beginning and it is not too late to fight to be the best version of themselves that they can be as they transition into a new phase of their lives.

Nansemond River Principal Dr. Shawn Green noted the growth among the students from the time when they first came to the school.

“It goes without saying that this journey may not have been a walk in the park,” Green said. “Within the last four years, I’m pretty sure there were some ups, some downs, some late nights, some early mornings. There may have been some arguments, disagreements, tears and frustration. But one thing is for sure. You did not give up, and I am proud of you for that.”

And getting through it during the pandemic, and throughout their four years of high school, is worth honoring, Cadua said, even the small successes.

“Take a moment, soak it in, breathe out, celebrate yourself,” Cadua said. “You did it.”