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Early College commencement: Looking ahead, looking back

On a night that would likely be their last together as a group, graduating seniors at Lenoir County Early College High School hugged the memories made over the years by a small class at a school known as a place of encouragement and support.

African American female high school senior in black cap & gown waves to someone while in graduation procession.Wednesday night, when 41 members of the Early College Class of 2023 received diplomas, the forward-looking rituals of commencement had to find a place among long looks back.

“The Class of 2023 is a very special, close-knit group of students,” principal Steve Saint-Amand told his departing seniors in a graduation ceremony held in the gymnasium at Lenoir Community College, where Early College is housed. “You have definitely left your mark on Early College. The Class of 2023 has endured many hardships over the past several years due to Covid; however, your persistence has certainly paid off.”

The class accumulated more than $1.3 million in scholarship offers. Thirty-five seniors who received diplomas Wednesday night were awarded associate degrees by Lenoir Community College on Thursday night. Twenty-six members of the class graduated from Early College with honors. Thirty-two will attend a four-year or two-year college, including 12 heading to East Carolina University. Seven have been selected for honors programs at the universities where they will continue their education.

Female high school senior in black cap and gown delivers commencement address behind podium“We pushed through and overcame so that we could be here, together, for one final time,” summa cum laude graduate Jenna Steele told classmates in one of three commencement addresses delivered by seniors. “I am proud of you for making it this far and for what you will accomplish next. I know it can be hard sometimes, but learn to love and believe in yourself. You will accomplish great things and the world is a better place because you’re in it.”

Separated over long stretches of two academic years by restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, the class nonetheless made memories, whether online, through social media or in-person – memories that fifth year senior – or super senior – Mariela Salgado-Villa told classmates she cherished.

Female high school senior in black cap & gown delivers accommencement address“Thank you for making these past five years memorable. Thank you for the laughter and joy, the countless hour of hard work and the many times we came together to lift each other up,” she said. “As we leave this familiar place and venture into the next chapter, let us not forget all the memories and friendships we have made over these years.”

Superintendent Brent Williams praised the class’ grit. “You’ve been through a lot, Class of 2023, and you’ve not only endured that, but you learned from it. You grew from it. You’ve become so much better able to handle anything life throws at you. When the road gets hard, when the journey gets difficult and you feel like giving up, remember you have greatness within you.”

Amedith Stroud, another summa cum laude graduate, took up Williams’ challenge in her keynote address.

Female high school senior in black cap and gown is seen in profile as she delivers commencement address“Everyone has a different definition of success because everyone has different dreams, different aspirations. So work for your definition of success,” she told fellow seniors. “I am trying to live the life I have daydreamed about. I know it’s not going to be easy to get where I want to, but I’m willing to work at it.”

Recognized as honor graduates during the commencement exercise were:
Summa Cum Laude (With Highest Honor) – Jenna Ryan Steele, Amedith Yaribeth Stroud, Mason Charles Roller, Denisse Davalos, K’la Neja Kaylatta Green, Annabelle Nicole Powell, Dulce Flor Rios, Emily Katlin Howard, Kayden Curtis Uzzle, Makayla Carroll Kennedy, Aunesty Sanaya Pridgen, Landon Gray Wyenandt, Enrique Esquivel, Ayannah Dechelle Rouse, Angelica Leighann Aguilar, Samantha Carol Peyton, Kacey Nicole Smith, Dezarai Faye Robine White, Amarri Isaiah Johntae Smith and Mariela Salgado-Villa.

Magna Cum Laude (With Great Honor) – Hayley Montana Jones, Landry Carmil Smith, Jariyah Shar’Diyah Murphy, Shatera Michelle Leary and Leah Clair Taylor.

Cum Laude (With Honor) – Lea Bethany Raper

Photo caption:

Magna cum laude graduate Shatera Leary leaves Wednesday night’s graduation ceremony for the Lenoir County Early College High School Class of 2023 with a wave. Early College graduated 41 seniors, 35 of whom went on to receive associate degrees from Lenoir Community College on Thursday night.