Southampton graduates 198

Published 7:13 am Friday, June 25, 2021

Southampton High School handed out 198 diplomas to the Class of 2021 on the school’s football field the evening of June 18 as student speakers urged their classmates to embrace change and use the lessons learned amid the COVID-19 pandemic to help them succeed in the next phase of life.

Administrators who spoke during the commencement exercises aimed to give students a bit more guidance on their way out the door that could further equip them for what comes next.

Family and friends filled the majority of the large stands on the home team’s side of the field.

Valedictorian Mackenzie Griffith injected some levity into her speech near the start.

“Now I have to say, these past four years have been nothing like ‘High School Musical,’ and I do not know how to feel about that nor who to be mad at,” she said as she giggled.

“In all seriousness, though, the Class of 2021 has persevered and overcome the obstacles that have come our way, and I believe those challenges were put into place so that we may embrace the change and difficulties that are to come in our next chapter in life.”

Before delving further into her focus on change, she delivered what she described as a special and much-needed thank you to an exceptional group of individuals.

“To the teachers that deserve the world and more, thank you for the unwavering support and guidance you have shown us throughout our four years at SHS,” she said. “You have all played an important role in molding each and every one of the individuals wearing red caps and gowns today, and those lessons and memories will forever be cherished.”

She said that as she reflects back through her class’ four years at Southampton High School, “the memories made will last a lifetime. But what now?”

She said the word “change” weighed heavy on her as her senior year approached and she knew all the major events occurring would be some of her last in high school.

“From being a virtual student for 75% of the school year, to senior formal, my last dance recital after 14 years, graduating from Camp Community College and soon to being an SHS graduate, change and the thought of it has consumed my year and I’m sure yours as well,” she said. “The changes occurring in our lives post-graduation and throughout the upcoming months are inevitable but important to the success of our lives and those around us.”

She paraphrased a quote from author Roy T. Bennett that she said summarized her experiences throughout high school perfectly and that she hoped her classmates would also find value in: “Change is where your comfort zone ends.”

“I will be the first to admit that I am excited and scared for what the future holds,” she said. “However, I know that all things must come to a close and that I am prepared for whatever may be thrown my way. Although we had hardships in the past and are still overcoming one of the largest obstacles in the past century, I want you all to use the lessons learned and perseverance achieved as a launchpad into your next adventure, wherever that may be.

“In front of me today, I see future educators, doctors, armed force members, psychologists, chefs, tradesmen, entrepreneurs, farmers, lawyers and so many others that will make an impact on this world,” she continued. “By embracing the change, stepping out of our comfort zones and living life to the fullest, the world will be impacted by the long-lasting impressions set forth by this graduating class.”

Salutatorian Dinae Jones noted this past school year has been like no other.

“But we still managed to be here this evening,” she said. “Who would have thought that we would spend senior year socially distanced from friends, missing out on senior activities and wearing masks on a day where smiles are usually present instead?”

She titled her speech “Breathing through the Mask.”

“Even though we can breathe while wearing the mask, it does not mean that it’s not uncomfortable or difficult to do at times,” she said. 

Later in her speech, she stated that “just like the mask is uncomfortable, so are the changes and different stages in life. 

“We are approaching adulthood, and this event marks the first step in preparing us for our future,” she added. “This is just another stepping stone to lead us on our way to something great. No matter what path we take or where our lives lead us after this moment, we’ll be faced with change and new situations that we’ll have to get comfortable with in order to make it through.”

She urged her classmates not to be discouraged by the negative aspects of this past school year but instead enjoy the fact that they all pushed through and their hard work paid off.

She closed with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist: “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear hardship today.”

In her graduation message, Southampton County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gwendolyn P. Shannon said she and the graduating class were going to practice introspection.

“So Class of 2021, pause with me and take a look within yourself and envision where you will be in 10 years and what you will be doing,” she said. “Now, envision yourself in five years. Where will you be, and what will you be doing? Lastly, envision yourself in one year. Where will you be, and what will you be doing?”

She acknowledged that as people are asking Class of 2021 members what they will do with their futures, it seems odd to reply, “I don’t know.”

“But to be honest, it’s OK not to know,” she said. “It takes some people longer than others to figure out their calling and their purpose, and truth be told, some adults are still searching for their calling and their purpose or what will make them feel successful and happy.”

Nevertheless, she said she would still like to share her three key steps to being successful and happy, steps which she prefaced with a notable quote from the Bible.

“The greatest book in my opinion ever written puts it this way, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all other things will be added unto you,’” Shannon said.

Her first key step she listed was to embrace your vision. Step two was to establish your plan, and step three was to engage in the work.

“Let’s start today, working on making your dreams come true — not tomorrow, not next week, but today,” she said. “You can do it, and you have what it takes to get the job done. So before you go to sleep tonight, take a few minutes and start on your vision board, then write or type out your plan and bring your vision and dreams to life.

“While working towards bringing your vision or dreams to fruition, if you ever feel a little discouraged, know that you have an entire community right here at Southampton County ready to assist you and cheer you on,” she continued. “I wish you the best. We wish you the best. Go forth, be great, successful and happy. Go forth and fulfill your dreams.”

Southampton County School Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn shared three quotes with the graduating students from celebrated and influential American writer Maya Angelou.

The first quote was, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude, but don’t complain.”

The second quote was, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

The third quote was, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.”

Southampton High School Principal Aronda Bell made her message to the Class of 2021 short, with reflective and inspiring words.

“It has not been an easy year,” she said. “Few like this will come again, but you stepped up and showed us that you were 2021 strong. Tough times call for extraordinary kids, and like a champ, you made it through. Now you’re ready to ‘wow’ the world with the epic things that you’ll do. Congratulations to the Class of 2021.”

Of the 198 graduating seniors, 104 of them were honor graduates.

There were 48 dual enrollment graduates, including 15 who earned their Associate of Arts and Science degrees, 10 who earned their general education certificates and 23 who earned their career studies certificates.

The graduation program further noted that 21 graduates received either scholarship awards and offers or military awards and scholarships worth a combined $2.6 million.

Jones, the salutatorian, led the way, earning just more than $1 million in scholarship awards and offers.