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Graduates urged to use strengths forged in adversity

High school seniors who battled through the disruptions caused by two flood-inducing hurricanes and a global pandemic to earn their diplomas got a welcomed dose of encouragement from speakers at five Lenoir County Public Schools commencement exercises last week.

Female student gives a fist pump as she exits stage after receiving her diploma Together, 567 seniors were awarded diplomas by Kinston, North Lenoir and South Lenoir high schools, Lenoir County Early College High School and Lenoir County Learning Academy in ceremonies arrayed over four days and ending Thursday.

Restrictions on crowd size and social distancing recommendations required four of the schools – all but the Learning Academy – to stage a series of mini-graduation exercises, segmenting their Class of 2020 into small groups, limiting the size of the audience and blending live presentations with pre-recorded video.

Still, seniors heard their names called, walked across the stage on their school’s campus to receive their diplomas as proud family members watched, turned their tassels and heard their class recognized as graduates.

And true to tradition, they heard commencement addresses that mixed nostalgia, advice and a call to action for the future. Here are some excerpts by school:

Lenoir County Learning Academy – “This class has overcome so many obstacles,” Principal Stephanie Smith told her graduates. “Some of you entered the world during 9/11 and are here graduating in the midst of a pandemic. You have endured so much. But you are resilient. You are strong. Both are great recipes for success. … You are ready to go out into the world and face what life has to offer.”

Lenoir County Early College High School – “Wherever you go, embrace the situation – obstacles and all. We are young and we have time. Trust yourself and be your motivation,” top senior Aline Napomuceno-Soriano advised her classmates. Aline and Casey Powell, both summa cum laude graduates, were keynote commencement speakers.

 “Although the times we’ve had here together have been great and we have memories to last a lifetime,” Casey told her classmates, “I hope that great things continue to happen to you during your time here on Earth. Although life has many valleys, make sure you have just as many peaks.”

Kinston High School – “In life, disappointments are inevitable. And that is okay,” senior Alena Rivers, honored as the school’s Viking Scholar, said during one of two commencement addresses offered by students. “As we take the next steps in our lives, whether it’s entering the workforce or joining the military or going to college, it’s important for us to know that difficulties life will throw at us are not what we should be worried about, but rather how we handle and respond to them.”

Classmate Lesley Sutton, honored as the Kinston High School Academic Scholar, also brought a message for graduates. “Throughout the last four years we have learned to embrace the opportunities that come with life and how to understand ourselves,” she said. “High school has taught us the importance of setting a goal and not stopping until you achieve it, the importance of being able to adapt to uncomfortable situations and the importance of never giving up on your dreams.”

North Lenoir High School – Lee Kornegay, a 1983 graduate of North Lenoir High School and a North Lenoir Athletic Hall of Fame member who currently works in Raleigh as a real estate broker, delivered the commencement address. “Keep your head up,” he told graduates. “You may not realize it now, but going through this adversity will certainly prepare you for any adversities you face in life as you move forward. … Take some time to think about how you want to contribute to the world, think about the causes you want to support, think about the things you enjoy, things you are good out, think about the things you’re interested in, think about the things you care about, think about the things you’re passionate about. All of these things will help you determine your purpose and will help you determine what you’d like to be involved in.”

South Lenoir High School – Top seniors Aden Rouse and Michaela Elmore, selected by a faculty committee, delivered commencement addresses. “So many memories were supposed to be made this year – our senior prom, Awards Day, the Baccalaureate and Senior Breakfast, all of which were taken from us by the recent pandemic,” Aden said. “Please remember, this does not diminish the memories we have made thus far.”

“It is now time to venture out and make our mark on the real world, a world we’ve been preparing to meet for the past 12 years,” Michaela said to fellow graduates. “Some advice I wish to give you: Always stand up for yourself and the things you believe in. Never let others define you and your ability to succeed in all you do. Make mistakes and learn from your mistakes. Never accept failure because your ability to overcome defeat is what propels our society forward. Strive to be a better person tomorrow than you are today. Take chances and be fearless in doing so.”

Photo caption:

Grace Mae Benson allows herself a small celebration after accepting her diploma during the commencement exercise at Lenoir County Early College High School on Monday.