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Commencement addresses blend gratitude, encouragement

With a mixture of nostalgia, gratitude and encouragement, commencements speakers sent nearly 600 graduates of LCPS’s traditional high schools out into the world Saturday.

In back-to-back-to-back graduation exercises, the Class of 2019 at South Lenoir, Kinston and North Lenoir high schools received diplomas after receiving praise for the standards the seniors set in scholarships won, academic honors secured and college credits accumulated.

About 78 percent of the graduates say they plan to attend college, and 54 percent of the class leave high school with credits for college-level courses already completed. Together, the three high schools announced $12 million in scholarship offers.

“Class of 2019, I have enjoyed getting to know you over the past four years,” North Lenoir High principal Gil Respess said in his welcoming remarks. “The small group conversations we’ve had in the cafeteria, the hallway, my office or in the courtyard have been very meaningful. I thank you all for all that you’ve taught me.”

North Lenoir graduated 210 seniors, in the gym at Lenoir Community College; Kinston High, 165, in its school gym; and South Lenoir, 195, in its school gym. In earlier commencements, Lenoir County Early College High School graduated 45 and Lenoir County Learning Academy, eight.

Jacob Hunter deliver commencement address at South Lenoir High. But before those students were seniors they were kindergartners and middle schoolers and underclassmen in high school, many of them progressing through the grades together – a point touched on by four students who delivered addresses at South Lenoir and Kinston High ceremonies as they simultaneously looked to the past and to the future.

South Lenoir student Jacob Hunter built his commencement speech around a word he and his classmates could hardly ignore Saturday: change.

“We have experienced good changes and bad changes but through it all we have stuck together,” Jacob said. “Change is necessary in our lives, because without it there is no growth. The memories and experiences we have endured have been essential to making us who we are today.”

Yosi Esquivel delivers commencement address at South Lenoir High Yosi Esquivel-Alcantara, who entered high school as a shy freshman determined to “stay in the background” and left as an accomplished senior leader, told South Lenoir seniors they have what it takes to succeed.

“I’ve always imagined myself graduating and I know all my fellow classmates have too,” she said. “Now, here we are. You’ve gotten this far. You were able to push past all the challenges you faced and overcome them. You did all of this and in a few minutes you will graduate because you didn’t let anything hold you back.”

Brianna Brooks speaks at Kinston High graduation Brianna Brooks offered her Kinston High classmates guideposts for success: chose your friends wisely, don’t succumb to false pride, don’t look at someone else’s success and compare it to yours and stay focused on your goals. “Finally, do not ever let anyone tell you what you cannot do,” she said. “Only you can stop you.”

Kinston High’s Ciara Moye offered her own advice: ask for help when you need it, be supportive of others and avoid negativity. “After today we will all walk different paths,” she said. “Some of us are going to college, some to work, others to the military. Regardless of the path you take, make sure it’s one that brings you joy and prosperity.”

Ciara Moye Ciara and Ayanna Simmons, a fellow student in Kinston High’s International Baccalaureate program, were awarded the school’s top two academic prizes. The Viking Scholar award went to Ayanna in recognition of her 4.24 GPA and the Academic Scholar award as the school’s top student went to Ciara, who finished with a 4.51 GPA.

At North Lenoir’s ceremony, Jan Humphrey, a 1970 graduate of the school and a retired English teacher there, cast herself as a reluctant commencement speaker. “My message is brief, my words are simple, but the words I share with you today as you begin a new adventure can guide your young life.”

That adventure, she said, is fed by big dreams.

“My dream at 6 years old was to become an English teacher like my mother. One day you will look back at your dreams and you will be surprised to see the dream you had at graduation has become a reality,” Humphrey said.

Jan Humphrey “My hope for you is to dream so big that you challenge yourselves to be the best you can be. Live fierce. Never let anyone take your dreams from you. Be bold, be brave, but keep the faith that grounds you in this journey of life.”

LCPS high schools recognized 88 honor graduates and 79 seniors were tapped as N.C. Academic Scholars. Four students from LCPS traditional high schools not only earned diplomas during their high school careers but also earned associate degrees from Lenoir Community College. They are Brianna Brooks of Kinston High and Conner Craft, Adriana Gaona and Matthew Glen, all of North Lenoir High.

 Kinston High principal Kellan Bryant spoke for educators across the school district when she told her seniors on Saturday. “Each one of you has a purpose in this world. My hope is that you will use the skills and the talents you have refined here during your time with us and develop, mold and live your purpose. I want you to remember how you came to where you are today and know that your journey is just beginning.”