As he was making the transition from Moss Hill Elementary School to Woodington Middle School, Jose Godinez was thinking about high school – about one school in particular. He had his sights set on Lenoir County Early College High School.
“I heard about it from a friend of mine who was already in the Early College program. She told me I could earn an associates (degree) alongside my high school diploma, and to me that sounded like a really good thing,” Godinez, 19, said Tuesday as he took a break from high school graduation practice. “I started looking for ways to get into the Early College program.”
By the time he made his exit – at Wednesday night’s commencement ceremony – he had his high school diploma in hand and was 24 hours away from being awarded an associate of arts degree in graphic design from Lenoir Community College.
Lenoir County Early College High School turned out to be what he’d hoped it would be. “Overall, the experience was just great,” Godinez said. “The class size was probably the thing I liked the most. You get a lot of attention from the teachers.”
Of the 37 seniors in the Class of 2017 – the largest graduating class since Early College opened in 2007 – half earned associate degrees on top of their diplomas. Thirteen will be moving on to four-year colleges and seven more will be continuing at a community college in the state. The class accumulated more than $200,000 in scholarships.
“Their plans are just as diverse as their school choices,” Early College counselor Karen Roddy said. “They will be majoring in theology, psychology, business, accounting, criminal justice, animal science, computer technology, social work and environmental science.”
Four are joining the military, 11 are entering the workforce and one will begin her church mission.
The class boasts 17 honor graduates. Cum laude graduates are Donté Devon Cannon, Christopher Torrell Fredrick, Andrew Ervin Gordon, Connor Daniel Ipock, Morgan Lilla O’Neal, Keyona Quanesha Redmon and Brianna Nicole Whitfield. Magna cum laude graduates are Sinia Moneea McPhail and Carter Gage Whitley. Summa Cum Laude graduates are Alexandra Nicole Bluhm, Jessica Marie Braxton, Raven Celestia Breinholt, Noah Bryce Jackson, Cassidy Denee Kennedy, Alexis Nicole Parrish, Sammantha Victoria Ramsey and Kayci Danielle Willis.
“This entire class is filled with a variety of unique, compassionate, intelligent, creative, diligent and dedicated students. We are very proud of you,” Early College principal Diane Heath said during her commencement remarks. “With a class of 37 graduates and a school of only 203 students, we can honestly say that our students have a strong bond with each other and with our staff members.”
The tight-knit quality of the Class of 2017 resounded in commencement addresses by students Mark Wetherington, the super senior class representative, and top scholars Raven Breinholt and Noah Jackson. Their short speeches were peppered with good-natured advice to their peers and not a few inside jokes, but mostly they sought to encourage and to remind their friends that, as Wetherington put it, “Happiness is really what’s important.”
LCPS Superintendent Brent Williams reminded graduates why the ceremony is known as a commencement. “Let this not be the end of anything. Your way is just beginning,” he said. “You have chosen a path of excellence, you’ve set that course with hard work and dedication and a positive attitude. I challenge you tonight not to let that be the end.”
Godinez, of Kinston, plans to continue studying art and graphics at William Peace University in Raleigh. He also expects to continue his involvement with NC FIELD, an organization that advocates for migrant workers in eastern North Carolina. He joined the group’s youth movement when he was in the sixth grade and became a member of the Kinston-based non-profit’s board of directors two years ago, at age 17.
Given his artistic bent, it’s natural that he would bring creativity to problem solving. “I like to think outside the box a lot, so if I have the opportunity to bring a creative solution to a problem, that’s what I prefer to do,” he said.
Like how to be the first in your family to graduate from high school and earn a college degree. Jose Godinez did both this week.