Graduates say goodbye to Southampton High School

Published 11:44 am Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Meghan Simmons gives a wave to the crowd as she walks down the aisle on Saturday afternoon at the Southampton High School graduation. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Meghan Simmons gives a wave to the crowd as she walks down the aisle on Saturday afternoon at the Southampton High School graduation. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Before Superintendent Dr. Alvera J. Parrish sent her most recent graduating class into the world, she wanted to instill upon them one final lesson from within the halls of Southampton High School. As commencement speaker, Parrish shared a story about Jean-Francois Gravelet, also known as The Great Blondin, the creator of the high wire act.

“In 1985, [Blondin] announced that he intended to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. More than 5,000 people, including the Prince of Wales, gathered to watch,” Parrish said. “Halfway across, Blondin suddenly stopped, steadied himself, backflipped into the air, landed squarely on the rope and continued to cross safely to the other side.

“During that year, Blondin crossed the falls again and again and again. Once, he crossed blindfolded; once carrying a stove; and once on a bicycle. Just as he was about to begin yet another crossing, he turned to the crowd and shouted, ‘Who believes that I can cross pushing this wheelbarrow?’”

Noting that every person in the crowd raised their hand, Parrish said that Blondin selected one man in particular and asked him again.

“‘Yes, I believe you can,’ the man said. “‘Thank you,’ Blondin said. ‘Now, my good sir, please get into the wheelbarrow.’”

The crowd erupted in laughter, but Parrish’s point remained.

“Now you’ve just had a first class education from a first class high school in a first class school division, so like that man in the crowd, you know a lot of things. But also like that man, there will be times in your life when knowing things won’t matter as much as how scary the situation may be. When that happens, you’ll have to decide whether or not to get into the wheelbarrow.

“There are many people around you today that have great hopes for your future. There are going to be times in your life when, in order to succeed, you will have to trust, when you have to take a big leap of faith, and when that time comes, I hope you swallow your fear and get into that wheelbarrow.”

Parrish, who just completed her third full year at the helm of Southampton, also wanted the students to hold themselves accountable for their future.

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like this: ‘If you live each day as if it were your last day, some day you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the last 40 years of my life, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today,” she said. “Whenever that answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know that I need to change something.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life; don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your own inner voice; and most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you want to become.”

School Board Chairman Dr. Deborah Goodwyn echoed Parrish’s sentiments, and encouraged the students to continue to progress after high school by reciting a portion of the poem “If…,” written by Rudyard Kipling in 1895.

“People ask you what it will take to continue this journey, and Kipling gave us that direction,” she said. “‘If you can keep your head when all about you is losing theirs. If you can trust yourself when others doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting, too. If you can dream, and not make dreams your master. If you can bear to hear the truth. If you can walk with friends and keep your virtue. If you can walk with kings and not lose your common touch. If all people count with you, yours is the earth and everything in it.’ And what’s more, graduating class, is that you will continue to grow, thrive and achieve.”

With more than $6.2 million in scholarship and military awards offered to the graduating students, Salutatorian Malik Phillips said his class will finally be able to answer the question of what they are doing after high school.

“We are the future of our society, and our own personal futures begin today,” the Gates Scholar and soon-to-be student at the University of Virginia said. “Today is a day that most of us have always dreamed of, but today is also a day that most of our parents may find bittersweet as they think of relinquishing us out into the world.

“Each person in this room has assisted us on our journey, and today we are able to see the product of a stable and conducive support system. Because of them, when we leave this gymnasium, we will have the intellect, skills and cunning to succeed in the proverbial real world.”

Valedictorian Jena Araojo, who received more than $1.2 million in various scholarships, will attend the College of William and Mary this fall. She saw Saturday’s ceremony as the first major milestone of the the young adults’ lives.

“The choices that we make after today will impact the many doors that will open and close in order to find where we fit into society. We have completed an education that serves as a platform for the many endeavors we will encounter in the future,” she said. “Some of us will find those interests in college; others will face new challenges in the military, workforce or trade schools; and some of us may even take a year off to explore new places or travel the world. But no matter our plans for the future, each of us will travel the path to success.”

While each speaker had their own way of saying it, the common theme was thanking those who have been supportive of each student. Without the parents, teachers, administration or other role models, not one of the 169 students would have received their diploma on Saturday.

“Behind each of us are friends, family and mentors who have supported our successes and pushed us to reach our full potential,” Araojo said. “Let’s take the time to show gratitude for the many opportunities we have been given, and let’s go forth into the world with the intention of paying it forward.

“I challenge you today to embrace the world with open arms; push boundaries to make the world a better place; always remember where you came from and where you are going; and take advantage of every opportunity that knocks on your door. No matter your next journey after we leave here today, there will be obstacles that try to hinder your success or people that try to knock you down. However, perseverance and faith will guide us in the right direction.”

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