05/29/09 — 24 seniors turn tassels at Wayne Early Middle College

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24 seniors turn tassels at Wayne Early Middle College

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on May 29, 2009 1:46 PM

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Laterricka Bryant, left, and Susan Barefoot turn the tassels on their mortarboards during graduation ceremonies held Thursday night at Wayne Community College for the Wayne Early Middle College High School.

The Wayne Early Middle College High School graduation Thursday evening marked a special milestone in the lives of the 24 graduates who walked across the stage as the Class of 2009.

One figure stood out from the rows of blue in the Wayne Community College auditorium. A single, much darker graduation gown.

It was the second graduation ceremony in two weeks for senior Michael Gardner, who earned his associate's degree from WCC on May 15.

"He's our hero," said Dr. John Stiles, adding that the evening's ceremony was the "culmination of a lot of hard work."

The WEMCHS curriculum allows students to earn an associate's degree while still in high school. As the scheduling would have it, Gardner became a college graduate before he even received his high school diploma.

Gardner's mother, Kelly Tucker, said her son had put in many early mornings and late nights throughout his years at the school.

"I'm very, very proud of him," Mrs. Tucker said. "He burned the candle at both ends."

Not only did he attend two sets of classes, Gardner also worked up to 40 hours a week at his job at Pupetta's restaurant. Despite the long hours, he said he enjoyed his time at WEMCHS.

"I'm definitely going to miss it," Gardner said.

It was her son's decision to drive himself toward earning an associate's degree as well as a high school diploma, Mrs. Tucker said.

"It was just a goal he set in his own mind. This was all him," she said.

Another student was honored by a special round of applause, not for his attendance, but for his absence. A flag-draped chair among the seated graduates marked the place of Wyatt Horne, who had already left for basic training with the United States Marine Corps.

"Life's a game, learn how to play it," was Horne's favorite quote, one of many displayed via PowerPoint during a tribute to the students.

The WEMCHS Class of 2009 has big plans for the future.

Trent Harrell hopes to become a professional NASCAR driver. Megan Henn plans to attend Liberty University and eventually become a general practitioner of medicine. Classmate Katherine Harper also will pursue a career in medicine, at Duke University, and Andrew Harper will study dance at the North Carolina School of the Arts. Tom Spencer plans to join the military, and Charles Sugg III is deciding between joining the Air Force or attending Campbell University. Zara Pullman wants to work with the Peace Corps, and Casey Smith will attend Pitt Community College to prepare for a career as an occupational therapy assistant.

Gardner plans to go on to North Carolina State, but he and classmate Brad Jenkins, both suffered a minor setback. The two graduates wrapped principal Lee Johnson's car in cellophane for the senior class prank and discovered after the ceremony that their diploma covers were missing the vital certificate.

Ms. Johnson got her revenge. The holders contained a note: "Never, ever mess with your principal's car!"

Michael Gardner led the students in turning their tassels.

"I look at each of you and smile and say, we reached the finish line," said Miss Barefoot, Senior Student Government Association Member during her closing remarks. "Each of you made this experience a member we will always remember."

And despite the ongoing economic woes, with many more students already well on their way to college degrees, Mrs. Johnson knows the WEMCHS class of 2009 is already ahead of the game.

"I believe that our students are going to be well-prepared," she said. "That will help them be a better-prepared workforce for North Carolina."

And next year, a much larger group of students will be graduating with dual degrees, Stiles said.