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Mariner senior class president Maceo Donald gives a thumbs-up Friday night before his speech at the East Carteret High School graduation ceremony in Beaufort. (Dylan Ray photo)

BEAUFORT — It was a sea of blue and gold as 130 Mariners burst through the gymnasium doors Friday evening as new graduates of East Carteret High School.

Before the ceremony started, seniors bustled through the halls with a nervous excitement filling the air.

They donned their caps and gowns, fixed hair and makeup and enjoyed each other’s company in the school hallways one last time.

Among those getting ready were Ava Williamston and Whitley Wooten, who said they were feeling sad, excited and nervous.

“It’s the end of what we are comfortable with,” said Ms. Williamston. “We are going on to new things.”

Ms. Williamston said she plans to attend UNC-Wilmington for pharmaceutical sales, while Ms. Wooten plans to attend Appalachian State University for graphic design.

After milling around for about an hour, seniors came to life as they entered the gym, filled with enthusiastic parents, family and friends.

“This is my favorite part, right here, as they walk in,” said Sholar Warren, a teacher at the school. “We’ve worked so hard to get them here.”

Salutatorian Timothy Paul Gillikin III welcomed guests to the celebration. He said he was proud to be among those graduating in the Class of 2018 and encouraged his fellow classmates to keep in touch, grow their relationships and lean on each other in tough times.

Class president Maceo Donald echoed those comments.

Mr. Donald spoke of the class’s achievements, such as witnessing the first ever men’s basketball state championship and breaking the longest losing streak in the history of the Mullet Bucket football game against West Carteret.

“It is us, the Class of 2018, that has experienced all of these things together and are just cocky enough to think that of all of the classes to come and go, East will miss us the most once we leave this building for the last time together,” he said.

Valedictorian David John Brooks also shared parting thoughts with his classmates.

He said that as he was looking for the theme of his speech, he needed to look right in front of him, to his fellow Mariners.

“I know every high school in every community has a shared heritage, but I believe we, as Mariners, share a special bond with each other and to our past and to our place that is special, and at times, mystical,” he said.

Sticking with the theme of his speech, Mr. Brooks encouraged his classmates to get out there and explore what the world has to offer.

“Just like true Mariners, we have been taught how to make our own maps, so plot your course and let your moral compass guide you,” he said. “This is not the beginning of your education. That began 18 years ago with family, friends, teachers, all the people who have shared with us, not only knowledge from books, but life experience,” he said. “We have been given the tools necessary to craft our own seaworthy vessels. It is up to us to choose the right design and where we will sail.”

Other student speakers, Scott Jernigan and Ashley Rice, shared comments as well.

The outstanding academic performance of the Class of 2018 was celebrated, including recognizing the top 10 students. They were: valedictorian Mr. Brooks, salutatorian Mr. Gillikin, and in alphabetical order, Allison Brooke Bullock, Riley Grace Craig, Courtney Danielle Fry, Samantha Kelsey Fulcher, Miranda Inez Green, Milaina-Joy Peyton Guthrie, Cameron Cody Harding, Katherine Jane Rice, Emma Estelle Simpson, Mackenzie Gray Stanley and Erica Lee Wade.

The class’s academic performance was boosted by many other grads who brought home honors for clubs, societies, athletics and awards from the state and board of education.

Twenty-six students were recognized as President’s Award for Educational Excellence recipients. 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 SAT or 25 on the ACT in English or math.

Another 13 were recognized for earning the President’s Award for Educational Achievement.

In all, the class of 2018 garnered more than $2.8 million in scholarships, according to ECHS staff.

Senior class officers announced that for their senior gift to school, the Class of 2018 opted to use remaining class funds to help pay for a new stage.

Other special moments came when the Mariner Singers encouraged their classmates by singing “Hold Fast to Dreams,” by Susan LaBarr.

Class vice-president Mikayla Rose led the Pledge of Allegiance and introduced guests.

The crowd didn’t hold back cheers as principal Joe Poletti began doling out the diplomas. This was the last ECHS commencement exercise for Mr. Poletti, who has been named the new principal of West Carteret High School.

The ceremony closed with the senior chorus and audience joining for the school’s alma mater, followed by the class’ traditional turning of tassels.

A number of juniors pitched in for commencement exercises, serving as marshals. They were chief marshal Jared Willey, and Aidan Barnes, Logan Fulcher, Christian Gillikin, Sarah Golden, Jillian Harvey, Eirene Hynes, Spencer Jones, Jillian Kelley, Peyton Lindogan, Samuel MacArthur, Noah Richardson, Cameron Walton and Evelyn West.

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