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Resilient, grateful class of Raiders graduates

The 2021 Southampton Academy Commencement Ceremony featured moving tributes to a school that nurtured and equipped students for life after high school and a class that successfully endured a global pandemic.

Twenty-seven students received their diplomas during the outdoor event held the evening of May 27 on Pillow Field. 

“I welcome you to an assembly that will honor the dedication and bountiful accomplishments of the Class of 2021,” Salutatorian Covonna Bynum said at the beginning of the graduation.

She then made reference to the impact COVID-19 had on her class.

“My classmates and I have experienced a great deal of hardships and tribulations together,” she said. “We endured a pandemic and still passed enough classes to earn these seats. While it seemed like the entire world was falling apart, the bubble that’s surrounded us right here on Old Plank Road could not be penetrated.”

In her farewell address, Valedictorian Abby Pearce offered fond reflections on her time at Southampton Academy.

“Through the speech, I want to slow down our ever-racing minds and remember what we’ve learned, loved and gained from our experiences at Southampton Academy that will always connect us,” she said. “Ever since I entered the school doors for the first time at the age of 3, SA has been my home. A few others sitting in front of me today share a similar experience, as we grew up together for 15 years.”

She noted the school was a unique place to grow up because the small class was able to bond through field trips, class parties and trips to the playground.

Moving to middle school with recognizable faces of friends and teachers made her comfortable with the idea of growing up, she said, and the comfort fostered within the school community gave her the strength to try new things.

“SA gave me the confidence to attempt success in everything I do, and this mindset has motivated me to go out into the world with a positive and ambitious attitude, as I believe all young people should,” she said.

Pearce said that as she and her classmates became a family throughout lower school, “many members joined seamlessly through middle and high school as if we had known them forever.”

Bynum was one of those members. She came to Southampton Academy in February of her sophomore year. In doing so, she was moving to a school that was an hour away from home and that none of her friends had even heard of. She said her anxiety was at an all-time high.

“Upon my arrival, my worries were washed away as a result of the outpouring of sheer and utter kindness,” Bynum said. 

Though her time at the school was limited, she said she has cemented friendships and connections that will last a lifetime.

“Now the only worry I have left is that I will never meet any other people that will care for me and accept me the way the people I met here at Southampton Academy have done,” she said.

Pearce closed her address with a message to the school’s teachers.

“I think I can speak for the entire senior class to say thank you to all the faculty that cared to create relationships and better us as individuals, even when it wasn’t asked of them,” she said. “This is a community that I love very much and will never forget. I will miss you all.”

The featured speaker at the graduation was Deborah Johnson, a member of Southampton Academy’s Class of 1976 who went on to fill multiple roles at the school, including teacher and also dean of students from 1996-2020.

“My heart is filled with pride as I stand before you for such a memorable and special occasion,” she said. “The many years I spent here with students and colleagues filled my life with joy, purpose, experiences, challenges and memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

She noted that 2020 and 2021 have been two of the most unusual and challenging times in the history of the school and everyone’s daily lives.

“Students, parents, friends, teachers, administrators, staff and bus drivers have faced those challenges with determination, commitment, grace and perseverance,” she said. “There have been changes made in the classroom settings, teaching methods, as well as athletic competitions and various activities.”

She highlighted how disappointment set in for students as a result of not experiencing traditional events on campus like homecoming, honors and athletic banquets.

“It hasn’t been easy,” she said. “However, you have endured these unprecedented circumstances with great courage, dedication and resilience. You have proven challenges are opportunities in disguise.”

She called each member of the Class of 2021 by name and offered praise to the group.

“You are remarkable,” she said. “You are talented, intelligent, thoughtful, kind, studious, playful, sociable, witty, caring, sensitive, sympathetic, unique and, at times, a bit mischievous.”

Sixteen members of the Class of 2021 were honor graduates. The class has been offered admission from 38 colleges and universities, with 28 of them offering financial awards and scholarships.

The Outstanding Raider Award, given to seniors who have participated in exemplary fashion on an athletic team each season for all four years of high school, went to Marina Harrup and Clay Bilbrey.

Niko Gamboni received the G.E. Pillow Citizenship Award.

Thirteen members of the class received the President’s Award for Educational Excellence.

Dr. Deborah Hartman, of Camp Community College, noted that Gov. Ralph Northam has authorized the issuance of special medallions recognizing students graduating from a dual enrollment program with a general education certificate or an associate degree.

The governor’s medallions went to Gracen Ogburn, who earned a certificate in general education, magna cum laude, and Victoria Ross, who earned an Associate of Arts and Science degree in general studies, cum laude.

The Class of 2021’s senior gift to the school was new trophy cases.