‘Success is not guaranteed:’ Early College graduates ready for next chapter in life

Published 9:50 am Thursday, June 16, 2022

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By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

Members of the Davie County Early College High School Class of 2022 are ready.

They’re ready for the next chaper in their life – equipped with the tools they need to be successful.

How do we know this?

They said so.

During the commencement ceremony on May 21, student after student thanked their parents, their friends, their teachers and counselors, and the community at large for preparing them to be an adult.

“A whole lot of new is coming our way, but we have the skills to get through them,” said Olivia Campbell, a Phoenix Award speaker at the ceremony.

“We aren’t the same little kids who first walked through the doors of the Early College four years ago,” said Billy Laird, a student-chosen speaker. “We’ve grown and matured so much.”

The day featured speeches, personal messages from students, and comments from staff about each student as they crossed the stage to get their diplomas.

It started with Ethan Britton, a Phoenix Award winner, leading a moment of silence prior to hearing the voices of seniors. “We believe in diversity and tolerance,” he said.

Among those voices was that of A.J. Ronquillo. “Take the time now to figure out who you are. Figure out what you truly want out of life. Figure out what you want to accomplish, who you want to be, and align your life to that. Stay focused. Stay motivated. Stay positive.”

Principal Melissa Lynch took the stage to congratulate and encourage the class.

She first talked about the importance of families. “You heard many times through our student acknowledgements on how much your love and support has meant to your students. Your involvement, encouragement and interest in their success have made a marked impact on their lives. Their success is our reward and everything we work for.”

The faculty and staff are dedicated to one thing: student success, Lynch said. “This is not easy work, but you all continue to find ways to champion our kids, and that’s what this is all about. I think you all hung the moon.”

She then turned to the graduates.

“You should be proud of yourselves. You are right, as many of you said in your reflections, you’ve survived and made it.”

Each student graduated with a high school diploma. All have college transfer credits. Many earned a two-year college associate degree. And 87 percent are furthering their education. “That is impressive,” Lynch said.

“You have learned a lot, grown a lot, endured a lot and accomplished a lot both personally and collectively. The life ahead of you is going to be marked with many changes and challenges and you will have to grow and adapt, but I also want you to know that it is OK to sometimes take your time and slow down. Set your compass and get there in your time and in a way that keeps you whole.

“You’ve gained a confidence in yourself that can only come from knowing who you are, and you recognize that you have within you the capacity to do and achieve great things.

“Just don’t quit. When things get tough, just remember some other Early College failsafes: it’s important to take time for hot chocolate, play musical chairs with your friends as often as possible, and a good round of sock wrestling can usually fix most things.

“Most importantly, just keep going because the whole world needs your uniqueness. It needs your talent. It needs your art. It needs your mind. It needs you,” Lynch said.

Olivia Campbell was the next Phoenix Award speaker. “Go on and find your next adventure. Make it a good one, because we’ve only got on shot. Wherever we go in life, we will always have the Early College, our home.”

Lane Sexton recalled almost missing out on the application deadline for early college while in the eighth grade. He was intrigued by the chance to earn college credits, and excited by the possibility of no school on Fridays and some seniors only having two classes per week.

He was lucky. The counselor accepted the application a day late.

“Little did I know how much that would change my life,” he said. “I’m so lucky to have been here with you guys and I wouldn’t change it even if I could.”

Anna Mackey, student choice speaker, thanked her mother, and her self. “I’m so proud of myself. I’ve changed into the person I am today. I can stand up here and say that I’m proud of who I have become. I am happy.

“Give yourself credit,” she said to fellow graduates. “Acknowledge the change that you have within yourself over the past four years. Also, invite more change.”

Billy Laird closed the student speeches with sort of a comedy routine, but serious.

He researched notable speakers, and found names like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (“a wonderful man”), President Abraham Lincoln (“rad dude”) and President John F. Kennedy (“exceptional taste in women”). Then he saw another name on that list, Hitler.

He looked for another list, and chose a quote from Chris Hansen, “a man I don’t ever want to meet.” That quote: “Every time I think I’ve seem every possible scenario, something else comes up. You just have to be prepared at every level.”

Laird said the first year at the Early College was normal, the second boring. He told himself that 2020 was going to be the year. “And then the funniest thing happend,” he said, comparing the year to listening to Nickleback or stepping on a Lego. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages followed.

“We overcame it. Did we let it bother us? Well, yeah, definitely. Did we whine about it? Absolutely. But at least we didn’t have to wear pants to class.

“Remember, success is not guaranteed and it is not handed to you. It is earned.”