BEAUFORT — Ann Street United Methodist Church Preschool students who graduated Wednesday weren’t the only ones ending their time at the school.

The school’s director, Cathy Brandt, oversaw her last commencement exercise because she retired Wednesday after serving 12 years as the preschool’s director.

Excited children, dressed in light blue caps and gowns, and proud parents and grandparents didn’t let the news dampen the enthusiasm of the ceremony, when 4- and 5-year-olds took a major step in their short school careers.

Ms. Brandt quietly stood in the background as her teachers led students in a graduation program that included recitation of Bible verses, numbers, letters, words and other notable bits they had learned throughout the year. As is tradition, there was also plenty of singing.

Ms. Brandt’s last official duty during the ceremony was to announce each child’s name as teachers handed out diplomas, Bibles and roses, which each child gave to their parents.

After the ceremony, Ms. Brandt said she had mixed emotions about leaving her beloved school.

“I am excited, but also sad. I know it’s the right time,” she said.

The new director, Chris Barnes, has already been hired and was on hand to assist with the ceremony. She admitted she has some big shoes to fill, but looks forward to leading the school.

“Cathy has done such a great job that I’m stepping into a well-oiled machine that I look forward to leading,” Ms. Barnes said.

For Ms. Brandt, she made the decision to retire to spend more time with her family. However, she admitted it was tough to leave her school family.

“I love being around the children and my staff,” Ms. Brandt said. “It’s just such an awesome place. We have a very dedicated staff.”

Ms. Brandt said the most rewarding part of her job has been seeing children enter the school system well-prepared for their future.

“Our children are very well-prepared. I have so many parents and teachers from our school system tell me how impressed they are with how ready our children are for school. We always have a waiting list to get in our school, and that just speaks to the quality of our teachers and staff.”

Ms. Brandt added that she also emphasized the importance of teaching children about the Bible.

“Our children memorize a Bible verse for every letter of the alphabet,” she said. “Those seeds are planted. I pray they have learned to love Christ and know that he loves them. I’m just so proud of all they have accomplished.”

Parent Sarah Lawrence of Morehead City, who had twins graduate from the preschool Wednesday and another child go through the school, said she would miss Ms. Brandt.

“She’s been nothing but an exemplary leader. She’s kind, sweet, generous and understanding, yet was firm when children needed it,” Ms. Lawrence said. “We always felt like it was a home away from home.”

Ms. Lawrence added that she knows Ms. Barnes and is excited she has been hired as the new director.

“They couldn’t have picked a better person for Cathy’s replacement. I know she’ll continue to make Ann Street an exemplary preschool.”

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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