Class clowns

Croatan High School graduate Zack Burleson jumps in the arms of fellow graduates, from left, Matthew Morton, Chris Rippeth and Riley McGilvery prior to the start of commencement exercises Friday. (Cheryl Burke photo)

Reporter's note: This article was corrected June 11 at 11:58 a.m. to correct a misspelled name.

OCEAN — Each graduating class seems to leave its own unique mark.

For Croatan High School 2019 graduates, one of those marks was overcoming Hurricane Florence, which flooded the school and left students out of class for 15 days. The flooding ruined the school’s gym floor, which had to be totally replaced.

The bonds forged by the CHS Class of 2019 through tough times will always be remembered thanks to a unique gift presented to each one during Friday night commencement exercises in the gym.

Principal Kay Zimarino surprised each of them with a memento to remind them of the resilience and perseverance they displayed through Hurricane Florence. Each graduate received a small plaque created out of the school’s original gym floor. Engraved on the wood was “Croatan High School Class of 2019.”

The birch wood plaques were hidden under each graduate’s seat. During her speech, Ms. Zimarino invited students to reach under their seats and open the bags that contained them.

“May it always bring you good memories of the time you spent here and serve as a reminder of the timeless bond you’ll always have to Croatan and to each other as classmates and friends,” she said.

Students were shocked to receive the gift, and following the ceremony graduate Abby Ziegler said, “I thought it was really creative.”

Graduate Delaney Padgett added, “This school did so much for us during that time and I’m thankful we got to end the year on time. This experience has helped us grow closer together as a class.”

The two graduates were among 212 members of the Class of 2019 at Croatan High School.

Another unique mark the Class of 2019 left was being the first to not have valedictorians and salutatorians.

All three county high schools used a Latin honors graduation system similar to colleges. Instead of a valedictorian and salutatorian, graduates with high grade point averages were recognized as summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude.

Graduates seemed to take it all in stride as they relished the final moments of their high school careers.

Senior class president Marianna Ahlquist encouraged her classmates to make a positive impact on the world.

“In whatever direction you all pursue, I hope that you intend to make a difference,” she said. “I am proud of the various environmental conservation strides that our class has taken to make a difference in the community. From a push to ban microplastics to a heightened awareness of the disturbing amount of plastic in our waterways, I challenge each of you to be aware of how you treat your surrounding environment.”

Following the theme of protecting the environment, Ms. Ahlquist announced the senior gift to the school was two water fountains that serve as bottle refill stations.

Senior Class Vice President James Rodriguez, who was the commencement speaker, thanked teachers and staff for their support. He also encouraged his classmates to not be afraid to take risks as they pursue their future endeavors.

“Even when everything in our lives seems to be going poorly — as it will at some point within the next 70 years — we must remember that the risk of life always pays off,” he said. “We ourselves are testaments to this fact. Last night I read that it costs over $200,000 to raise a child. Our parents bet literally the equivalent to the price of a Ferrari that we would succeed. And tonight we do. Tonight we graduate high school.”

As for the change to the Latin honors system, school officials said it was due to a statewide change in the grade point system, which switched from a seven-point to a 10-point system. The change created more opportunities for GPA ties for valedictorians and salutatorians.

The grade point average requirements for the graduation honors are summa cum laude, 4.5 GPA; magna cum laude, 4.4-4.49 GPA; and cum laude, 4.3-4.39 GPA. Students must have a minimum of 32 credits to be eligible.

Seniors receiving the honors were recognized with a certain color stole, including gold for summa cum laude, silver for magna cum laude and white for cum laude.

Those receiving summa cum laude honors were Marianna Ahlquist, John McLean, James Rodriguez and Taylor Wade-Cronkhite.

Those receiving magna cum laude distinction were Madeleine Arena, Brennan Callahan, Kaleigh Hanson, Matigan Holloway, Rachel Leonard, Bethany Lier, Lyndsey Reeve, Madison Sonzogni, Molly Walsh and Jakob Woodard.

Those receiving cum laude honors were Gabrielle Elardo, Sara Huber and Abigail Ziegler.

There were also moments of inspiration, like when assistant principal Shannah Norris announced the winner of the Cougar Choice Award. The award is given to a student who exemplifies the qualities of a Cougar: good morals, ethics, drive, spirit, determination to succeed and ability to deal with challenges and pressures of high school. The award was given to Steven Clague.

In addition, assistant principal James Westbrook presented the Spirit of the Cougar Award to Madyson Keeton. The award, also named after the school’s mascot, is given to students who overcome exceptional obstacles in the pursuit of education.

Another moving moment was when Mahra Wilson, who was in a wheelchair, rose up and walked across the stage on crutches to receive her diploma. She had been in a serious automobile accident earlier in the year and is still recovering.

Ms. Kay Zimarino recognized 41 students named N.C. academic scholars by maintaining at least a 3.5 grade point average.  

An additional 54 were honored for the President’s Award for Educational Excellence. To get that award, students must maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average for all four years of high school and earn at least 600 on both the verbal and math sections of the Scholastic Assessment Test or 25 on the ACT in English or math.

Ms. Zimarino said the senior class earned more than $2.93 million in scholarship money, setting a new school record.

Another special moment came when the Croatan vocal ensemble presented the song, “This is Me.”

After Ms. Zimarino presented the Class of 2019, members flipped the tassels on their caps and threw them in the air.

Croatan graduates got one last opportunity to say goodbye following commencement exercises because they were treated to Project Graduation, an alcohol- and drug-free, all-night party.

Marshals, juniors with the highest grade point averages, for the ceremony were chief marshal Jessica Stern, and Alena Bradley, Casey Dulaney, Mason Fails, Zachary Hoy, Colby Loveless, Jonathan McCabe, Cora Meno, William Swiber and Nicolina Secchi.

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

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