By Daniel Sherrier
Caroline High School is losing 261 familiar faces, and each one is about to confront new challenges and opportunities.
The Class of 2014 graduated in a ceremony at the University of Mary Washington’s William Anderson Center Friday night, surrounded by numerous family, friends, and teachers.
Seven seniors shared remarks, beginning with Richard Lee Beale, who urged his peers to maintain the friendships they’ve made at Caroline.
“I know that we are going our separate ways now,” he said, “but I encourage you all to stay close—not just on social media, but actually stay close.
“We are the class of 2014, a family that came together Day One freshman year and is going to walk out together tonight. We are finished with high school and ready to start the next chapter of our lives, so keep your friends close and live life to the fullest.”
Beale concluded his speech by taking a “selfie,” a photo taken of oneself, with his classmates in the background, and he noted several classmates who were not present that evening.
Freddie Romero-Baker, Aason Pankey, Mark Rollins, and Shawn Myers were representing their school at the state track meet in Harrisonburg.
Daronte Rollins was in a hospital recovering from an automobile accident that occurred the previous Saturday while he was going to visit his future college, Ferrum, and has possibly left him paralyzed. Friends accepted Rollins’ diploma on his behalf.
Jackie Chavez told her classmates, “Find your talents, motivation, and strive for perfection in everything you do. Learn to appreciate those that helped you along this difficult path that led you here today.
“No longer are your peers, school and small community your only competition. Now it is the world that will challenge you. Not every day will be as beautiful and joyful as this, so I ask you all to not lose hope in your darkest moments in life. Success will come to those who learn to grow. … It is only the beginning, so continue to accomplish your goals with mind, body, and soul.”
Michael Williams shared a quote from author J.K. Rowling: “It is impossible to live without failing at anything unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you’ve failed by default.”
“As you go off to college or into the workforce, I want you all to reflect on the great things you have done in the past few years, as well as keep in mind the mistakes you have made and learn from them. I’m sure you all have high expectations for yourselves in the next few years. You want to do something good with your lives, but things may not always work out the way you plan. So don’t let the fear of making mistakes stop you from doing great things,” Williams said.
Andrea Gayle pulled inspiration from her grandmother’s graduation speech to the C.T. Smith High School Class of 1943.
“I noticed that she had the same worries and concerns that we have today. What will the future hold? What obstacles lay ahead? These questions haunted every graduating senior in my grandmother’s time and still haunt us today,” Gayle said.
“For our class, 2014, it has been 13 long, consecutive, eventful years since we first set foot in a classroom filled with tiny chairs, tables, and people. We journeyed from naptime to recess to an entire day of non-stop learning.
“It’s easy for most of us to say that above all things we’ve learned in high school, we will always and forever remember the Pythagorean Theorem, the three branches of government, and how to write a 10-page paper in two hours, but aside from the academic aspect of school … what will we really carry with us from this point?
“Our dedicated teachers opened our eyes to new subjects and fields that we may never even have thought twice about were they not here to guide us. … Our teachers expanded our interests and helped to pinpoint our possible future careers,” Gayle said.
Shaunn Warmuth said, “I almost gave up on math when they started playing hide-and-go-seek with the alphabet. … I’m still far from a mathematician.
“Even if we do not excel at one particular aspect or subject in life, it is important to find a way to appreciate it since we are naturally inclined to try harder at something if we’re interested in it. ‘Try hard’ is what we have done indeed these past few years.”
He encouraged his classmates “to take a deep breath” whenever they need to.
“Whether you’re joining the military and going to bootcamp, going in for a job interview, going to college with the future threat of student loans looming over your head, or simply worried about how we’re going to make it through a tough situation, we all have to breathe.
“Just take that deep breath and prepare yourself to tackle whichever obstacle life throws your way, but always remember not to only live for yourself because the people you fight for is what makes it stronger,” Warmuth said.
Taylor Webb said, “We’ll be met with more obstacles, but just like high school, we’ll be able to persevere and come out on top, just as we are doing by walking across this stage today.
“While it seems like many of these things learned in high school can be easily forgotten and brushed off as nothing, that is simply not the case. You should take with you all the knowledge about dealing with challenges and how not to let them get in your way as you continue this journey, no matter where your life takes you.”
Webb continued, “As you walk across this stage and receive your diploma that you worked incredibly hard for, take a moment to remember all the challenges you had to face to reach this moment. If you can handle all of those challenges, then there is nothing stopping you from going out into this big world and making all of these real-world problems into nothing bigger than a grain of sand.”
RayQuan Smithers thanked everyone who played a role in shaping the Class of 2014.
“We have achieved this milestone tonight with hard work and determination, but we did not do it alone. From the beginning, we have had the support of many, from the superintendent and the principal to the cafeteria workers, bus drivers and the janitorial staff—each has played a pivotal role in all our successes.
“We thank our teachers for their inspiration. We thank our mentors for their motivation. We thank our guidance counselors for their patience, and to our parents, we appreciate you for every school program, sporting event and parent-teacher conference you have ever attended. We would not be here without your unwavering support,” Smithers said.
CHS Principal Jeff Wick provided one final high school lesson, and the subject was freedom.
“You’ve heard this a lot. People coming up to you—‘You have a bright future.’ Why is that? There’s probably a number of reasons, but I’m going to give you one important one, and that’s the freedom you have in America unlike any country in the world,” Wick said.
“This freedom you have is the freedom of opportunity. If you go to any country in the world, most people when they are born, they’re forced to do what their parents have done, what their grandparents have done and their great-grandparents have done and so on. In America, you have the freedom to choose whatever you want to do,” he added.
Wick stressed the importance of qualities such as hard work, sacrifice, discipline, and responsibility.
“You are the person who is responsible for taking advantage of this freedom and opportunity. It is no longer your teachers’ responsibility, nor your school’s, nor your parents, nor the government’s. You must use your ability, your intelligence, and your initiative to reach the goals you have, the success that you seek,” Wick said.