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Be bold and resilient in journey ahead, 600 graduates told

As they arrived at the milestone of graduation, seniors awarded diplomas Saturday at three LCPS high schools were encouraged to continue their journey with the kind of confidence that allows them to move ahead even when the road gets rough.

“The greatest achievements start with self-belief. Trust your abilities, have confidence in your dreams and know that you are capable of extraordinary things,” Kinston High School principal Kellan Bryant told her graduating class. “Failure is not the end. It’s a part of the journey to your success. Learn from your mistakes, use them as an opportunity to grow and keep moving forward with resilience.”

The Class of 2024 begins that journey from a place of excellence, having recorded new highs for Lenoir County Public Schools in the number of graduates and the dollar value of scholarships offered them.

Female graduate in white cap and gown gets hug after commencement

Newly-minted Kinston High School graduate Angel Arnold celebrates after Saturday’s commencement ceremony. In back-to-back-to-back graduations at Kinston, North Lenoir and South Lenoir high schools, 600 seniors were awarded diplomas.

Six hundred senior matriculated in back-to-back-to-back commencement ceremonies Saturday – 172 at South Lenoir High, 185 at Kinston High and 243 at North Lenoir High – and with graduating seniors from Lenoir County Early College High School and Lenoir County Learning Academy, who received diplomas in earlier ceremonies, the district’s Class of 2024 numbered 665, the most in a least 10 years.

As a whole, the class was offered $23.3 million in scholarships. Fifty-nine members of the Class of 2024 also earned associate degrees from Lenoir Community College while in high school.

“Parents, family and friends, the Class of 2024 is a very special class,” South Lenoir principal Elizabeth Pierce said in welcoming a capacity crowd to the school gymnasium for commencement. “This class should be very proud of its accomplishments.”

Two top students keynoted the South Lenoir graduation. Laney Baggett and Emily Jacobs urged their classmates to be bold – and prepared for setbacks.

“I encourage you to chase your goals and dreams. I challenge you to take risks and above all I ask each of you to never give up on yourself and always believe in your dreams,” Laney told classmates, after reviewing some of the “last moments” of their senior year. “Although this year we have experienced lots of ‘lasts’, this graduation will not be our last achievement,” she said.

“Life presents us with countless opportunities to start again, to learn from our mistakes and to grow into better versions of ourselves,” Emily said. “High school, with all its sky-high Cloud Nines and rock-bottom lows, has prepared us for reality. It has taught us perseverance in the face of failure.”

African American in black graduation garb speaks at podium

Coach USA CEO Derrick Waters, a 1983 graduate of North Lenoir High School, keynotes the alma mater's commencement.

North Lenoir High commencement speaker Derrick Waters, the CEO of the Coach USA, a national bus company, and a 1983 graduate of North Lenoir, served as a case in point. After an erratic college career, he started at the bottom with UPS and steadily climbed the ladder for 34 years. “I went from being a temporary clerk making $6 an hour to the vice president of operations for the western United States,” he told seniors, asking them to consider the difference between success and failure.

“Failure is just another opportunity to succeed,” Waters said. “I have failed many times in my life but I always try to look for a way to build on that and come back and succeed.”

North Lenoir principal Rhonda Greene reminded the graduates that success is largely the result of individual effort. “Everyone has opportunities presented to them, but not everyone takes advantage of them,” she said. “You will be responsible for taking those opportunities and transforming them into meaningful opportunities for yourselves.”

At Kinston High, seniors who have made the most of their opportunities figured prominently in the commencement ceremony. The school’s top academic awards, the Kinston High School Viking Scholar and the Kinston High School Academic Scholar, were presented, respectively, to Aanysti Canady-Small and Jordan Middleton. Aanysti keynoted the ceremony along with classmate Javiar Grady, winner of a top merit scholarship to North Carolina A&T State University who was also named a North Carolina Teaching Fellow.

“We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I’m so glad that I know who holds tomorrow. I am certain of this because we are the class who have shown the world that anything is possible,” Javiar said. “We are not here by circumstance. We have not conquered 13 years of education to stop here. The sky is not the limit. Class of 2024, I encourage you to shoot for the stars.”

Reminding the packed-house audience that the Class of 2024 entered high school as remote-learning students due to the coronavirus pandemic, Aanysti declared that the experience made this group of seniors stronger. We now truly understand the meaning of growing and persevering, which is something we will continue to do beyond high school,” said Aanysti, who’s also heading to North Carolina A&T on a merit scholarship. “Class of 2024, our strength is amazing and it is unmatched.”