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Early college the right place for these graduates

By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

Once a Phoenix, always a Phoenix.

Another class of students graduated from Davie County Early College High School last month, taking with them the knowledge and confidence they had learned.

“Without this community that is the Early College, I would not be the person I am today,” said Annie Banks, a Phoenix Award winner.

She left the early college to attend the N.C. School of Science and Mathmetics. But she wasn’t happy. She lost her self confidence. “I was not living the life I wanted.”

So she came back, and even with her dad’s death in November, became happier. The staff and students at the early college helped her through the tough times. They gave her the skills she needed to cope.

“Nothing prepares you for losing a parent, especially when that parent is the one you love most in the world,” she said, thanking her father. “You taught me what being strong in the face of adversity is like.”

She ended with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald: “It’s never too late to be who you want to be.”

Phoenix Award winner Austin Wyatt urged fellow graduates to welcome change. “I believe that one person can make a difference. It starts with us. One person who chooses to do good can have incredible influence. Sometimes it takes that one person to do what’s right.

“Take chances. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. No matter the obstacles, we will be able to rise above it and move on,” he said.

Malak Heikal, academic honors, talked about her family moving to this country 27 years ago to build a better life for their children – including her.

“Everyone, no matter how different, can feel safe and welcome (at the early college),” she said.

She too had planned to leave the early college and attend the N.C. School of Science and Math. But she was rejected.

“I started to feel my self confidence dwindle. I felt ashamed.” She was afraid to tell her parents, thinking she was a disappointment. That turned out to be the opposite. She remembers her father telling her that it happened for a reason, that something better was on the horizoin. “Your parents are proud of you for who you are, not what you accomplish.”

Now, she’s glad she came back to the early college, where she graduated high school with an associate’s degree in college, as well as being a part of the early college community.

“Rejection taught me to stay positive, to value my strong attributes and to appreciate accomplishments and failure. Now more than ever, I vbelive that failure  … only leads to somethign better down the road.”

Looking at her fellow graduates, she said: “You are more than any acceptance or rejection. You should be incredibly proud of yourselves.”

Kevin Santamaria was chosen to speak by his classmates.

“Never give up, even when things aren’t going that well,” he said. “Never stop, always keep moving forward and always be proud of yourself.”

Bailey Dzeskewicz, academic honors, called her years at the early college and academic and spiritual experience. “We believe in diversity and tolerance,” she said. “In keeping with these values, we would like to give you a moment of silence to reflect or pray quietly according to your own personal preference.”

Principal Melissa Lynch told the parents at the graduation ceremony that they had remarkable children. “That didn’t happen by accident. Their success is our greatest reward.”

Teachers, staff and students came together to make the best of the new way of learning caused by COVID. To the teachers, she said: “Your courage, innovation and commitment have inspired me on many levels. To say our have been absolute warriors for our students is an understatement. We are known for doing whatever it takes. Our core philosophy is always, what is best for kids.”

To the students, she said: “You’ve faced every obstacle imaginable. You continue to show your worth and you continue to show us you are worth it. Continue to show up, show your worth and show you’re worth it.

“Remember to serve others. When you lift others, you lift yourself. Understand you can’t be everything everybody wants, but you have to be everything you need.”

Former principal Denise Absher gave a video message.

“Take all you’ve learned … to take responsibility … to advocate for yourself … keep a plan and execute your plan. Continue to grow and learn alwasy.”