06/11/06 — Determination, hard work bring rewards to savor

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Determination, hard work bring rewards to savor

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on June 11, 2006 2:01 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Four years of determination, classwork and, of course, tests culminated Friday night in turned tassels and diplomas for the 217 graduating students at Southern Wayne High School.

More than 500 family, friends and faculty watched in the Mount Olive College auditorium as the students celebrated the end of 12 years of hard work.

Valedictorian Casey Best, who also served as senior class president, took the opportunity to say thank you.

"You've made an invaluable impression on us, and we hope we make you proud as we take the next step in our lives," he said.

For many of the graduates, that next step won't take them too far away, while others are about to make a big leap.

Ashley Clemens said she plans to attend Wayne Community College in the fall to pursue a nursing degree. During her time at Southern Wayne, Ashley said playing center field for the softball team provided her with her fondest memories. One day, she said she hopes to work in a maternity ward.

Shaquida Lane will enter the U.S. Air Force in the coming months so she can get an education to become an anesthesiologist.

Although she would love to be stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Shaquida said she thinks she is ready to "spread her wings" and to go where the road takes her.

Friday night's celebration was bittersweet for the parents of the senior class.

Debbie Underwood was proud to see her son, Jason, receive his degree.

But she also knows what comes next.

"It's exciting. I watched him grow from a 5-year-old that didn't want me to leave him to an 18-year-old who's ready to step out on his own. It's a wonderful experience, but also sad," Mrs. Underwood said.

Friday night was the third time Grover Hood watched one of his children graduate, but experience did not make the moment any easier -- even though he was still proud of his son, Austin.

"It's almost like I have an empty feeling. I have a lot of pride and sorrow mixed together," Hood said.

The pride of parents and friends felt for their graduating loved one filled the auditorium with cheers and camera flashes.

Salutatorian Katie Connelley reminded the students that, without their family and friends, the night wouldn't be as special.

It is a support system the newly minted graduates will take with them, she said.

"Our families give us unconditional love. They see us at our worst yet still think we are beautiful. Family members are not afraid to tell us the truth, even when it is not what we want to hear. They are also the first to defend us. Our families inspire us to be the best we can be," Katie said.

After the last graduate, Zackeita Young, received her degree, proud parents and friends erupted with shouts of praise and celebratory yells.

Hearing their families cheer for them, many of the students stood up to wave at loved ones and give each other hugs before leaving Southern Wayne behind for other adventures.

The steps each graduating student took to exit the auditorium were more steps toward the future.

Their valedictorian said he hopes their futures will be filled with the courage to try and the determination to succeed -- and to help others to do the same.

"There are two kinds of people in this world -- lifters and draggers," Casey Best said. "There are the people that lift us up and those that drag us down. We have to decide which one we will be. I think we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to be lifters."