MOREHEAD CITY — West Carteret High School senior Alexis Kay called her class “The Resilient Class” in her graduation retrospective address Friday night as an estimated 240 seniors finally joined together for a traditional ceremony in the school’s gymnasium.
With recovery from Hurricane Florence in September 2018 ongoing and more than a year of adjustments for the coronavirus pandemic, resilient was as good of a name as any for the class.
The ceremony was certainly different from last year, when students received diplomas 15 at a time in small groups in the auditorium due to strict COVID-19 safety restrictions.
Student council president Susanna Segrave opened this year’s ceremony by asking everyone in attendance to turn to their neighbor and give them a no-mask smile.
“We are so lucky to be able to experience this day,” she said. “Our class will not be forgotten. We will be taught in history lessons for many years to come.”
Ms. Segrave compared the journey to a hurdle race. They had jumped over every hurdle, and maybe even tripped over some, but had reached the finish line.
She documented how their senior year began by attending school two days a week, then four, then five due to different schedules. The class missed the final two and a half months of school during its junior year at the outset of the pandemic, as well.
“The faces we used to take for granted while passing in the halls suddenly disappeared, and we all realized what true isolation felt like,” Ms. Kay said in her retrospective address. “Coming back to school in the fall, we knew that nothing would be as we had expected. Since freshman year, we had our entire dream high school careers planned out, only for our expectations to come crashing down. However, we made do.”
The perseverance of the 2021 class was the theme of the night.
Principal Joe Poletti called the students “fighters and achievers” for making it to graduation.
The school’s Teacher of the Year for 2020-21, Deborah Belknap, marveled at the strength, resilience and compassion of the students in her faculty address. She recalled the world as they knew it coming to a screeching halt in March 2020, and the class adapting to the over the past 14 months to what she called “the new normals,” which were numerous, huge and exhausting.
“You have emerged with flexibility, self-awareness, determination,” Ms. Belknap said. “You have learned the importance of personal relationships, creativity, innovation, new perceptions. You have our love, respect, admiration. You left your mark on our hearts, now leave your mark on this world.”
Ms. Belknap remembered the class walking through the doors for the first time as freshmen Aug. 28, 2017. She said that group was “wide-eyed, nervous, hoping you knew somebody in your lunch, looking for that elusive pool on the third floor, and you wondered if this day was ever going to come.”
Ms. Kay said in reflecting back, the only normal school year was the first. Within weeks of the start of their sophomore year, Hurricane Florence brought enough destruction to cause them to miss nearly a month of school. Many students volunteered their time, cleaning debris, mucking out houses and organizing food drives.
“Faced with so many challenges that originally made us lose hope, we eventually discovered that the only solution was to make the best of what we were given,” Ms. Kay said. “Instead of lamenting about what could have been, we picked ourselves up and showed just how resilient we were.”
Class president Sydney Eure presented the senior gift to the school, which was two new bottle-filling stations, along with one-year filters, fitted outside the gym, making it convenient for students to use after gym class, weightlifting, sports practice and after lunch.
“It has not been an easy road, but tonight is what makes it all worth it,” Ms. Eure said. “I want to thank the administration, teachers, staff, for providing us with opportunities and activities to make this year as normal as possible. Your time and diligence are appreciated.”
Senior Alanna Paschall gave a prospective address, asking her classmates to think about all they did to get here, the long nights of studying for exams and doing assignments, and while sometimes they didn’t get the results they wanted or thought they deserved, their efforts were being recognized.
“Tonight, we’re going to be able to walk across this stage, something we weren’t sure was going to happen because of all the extreme circumstances surrounding our junior and senior years,” Ms. Paschall said. “And we all deserve to be right here, right now, because we have fought through the toughest years of high school to be sitting, together, this evening.”
In his commendatory, Mr. Poletti agreed the class deserved to be here on graduation night.
“The diploma you received was not given to you, you earned it,” he said. “No one can take that away, and you know what it took to accomplish this.”
He said the class had not only earned a high school diploma, but much respect.
Earlier he recognized top achievers, including 45 seniors who received the President’s Award for Educational Excellence. An additional 58 were honored as N.C. Academic Scholars and 40 were recognized for Character Academic Achievement Awards.
The West Carteret Singers added a special moment when they sang “Friends.” The band also performed “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Junior honors students who served as marshals during the ceremony were Elizabeth Parker, Anne Higgs and Sarah Edwards.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 11:47 a.m. Monday, June 7, 2021, to include a list of the graduates.
Contact reporter J.J. Smith by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.