Persevering East Carteret High School 2021 graduates receive hard-earned diplomas

Freshly minted East Carteret High School graduate Jaylon Ellison turns his tassel Friday at the end of commencement in the school’s gymnasium. (Jackie Starkey photo)

BEAUFORT Perseverance paid off for a determined group of 2021 East Carteret High School graduates, who received their diplomas Friday night in the school’s gymnasium as family members and school faculty and staff gathered to watch.

About 120 freshly minted graduates walked across the stage Friday, capping off a year that was anything but ordinary. The coronavirus pandemic meant students attended school virtually at least part of the year, so opportunities to form memories with friends and favorite teachers were more fleeting than seniors had probably hoped.

“I want y’all to know what it took for us to be the people we are today, with COVID and with personal issues that we struggled with this year and over the past four years,” said Antonio Wallace, one of the class of 2021 speakers for Friday’s commencement. “COVID made this year the worst school year of our life. Not seeing most of our friends because they were virtual or in a different cohort, having to socially distance from each other while we were here together and not having as many opportunities in sports and extracurriculars our senior year.

“We all overcame all of those obstacles,” he continued.

Last year because of safety restrictions, the  class of 2020 held two commencements, with some students opting to receive diplomas in an auditorium ceremony in June. A second ceremony was held in July on the football field for those who wanted to be together.

Considering the class of 2021 endured not only a pandemic, but also back-to-back hurricanes in just four years, the mood was particularly celebratory Friday.

Senior class vice president Lydia Lo Piccolo welcomed guests to the ceremony Friday, leading the pledge of allegiance and introducing the guests of honor, which included Carteret County commissioners Chris Chadwick and Ed Wheatly, assistant county public schools superintendent Richard Paylor and County Board of Education members Kathryn Chadwick and Brittany Wheatly. Class officers then presented the senior gift to the school, a refillable water bottle station.

Senior class president Riley Morris gave an address, noting in his speech just a few of the things he and his fellow graduates experienced over the past four years.

Following is the East Carteret High School class of 2021:

“I’m sure we’ve all heard our parents or grandparents tell us stories about what they did in high school, but none of them could tell us about how they survived a pandemic, witnessed mass civil rights and societal movements, got thrown out of school for hurricanes and still graduate on time,” he said. “I can say we’ve done what nobody else did before us, and you deserve much credit for persevering through it all.”

Other speeches were given by William Chadwick and Sarah Holston.

After the speeches, it was time to present the diplomas. Assistant principal Juanita Russell called each graduate’s name to the stage as principal James Westbrook III handed off the diplomas.

Once all the names had been called, the band played the school’s alma mater, and a packed gymnasium rang out with the sound of hundreds of graduates, family members and school staff singing in unison, likely for the first time in over a year. Then, the grads turned their tassels and tossed their caps into the air, finally and officially done with high school.

After the ceremony, Mr. Morris said the feeling was somewhat bittersweet, but he was proud of himself and his classmates for pushing through.

“It feels like it was a long 10 years over the last two years,” he joked, “but I’m proud of all my class and what we’ve gone through and I’m excited for what we’ll all accomplish.”

Marshals for the ceremony, which were juniors with the highest grade point averages, were chief marshal Aidan Sojo, Ghita Basurto-Covarrubias, Charlotte Bickley, Addison Brock, Evan Fullwood, Anna Gillikin, Jacob Gillkin, Ashlyn Guthrie, Caroline Harrison, Gregory McCoy, Logan Pilcher and John Priddy.


Contact Elise Clouser at; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

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