Wayne Country Day seniors take next steps to the future
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 29, 2011 1:50 AM
News-Argus/MICHAEL K. DAKOTA
Sterling Coggins helps Natalie Ecker prepare for graduation minutes before Wayne Country Day School seniors start their graduation ceremony.
For the 20 seniors who took home diplomas from Wayne Country Day Friday, their passage to adulthood also was marked by their alma mater's impending transformation.
Just after the tassels were turned on the graduation caps and the last speech finished, efforts began to ready the building for the summer-long construction project.
"Ten minutes done, we'll strip everything down," Headmaster Todd Anderson said before commencement began. "We're going to be putting the tarps down -- boom. We're going to be working until it's done. So this is a crazy day."
Planning for the $5 million capital campaign began months ago for the three-phase expansion project expected to take 24 months to complete. Over the summer, there will a complete remodel to the main building, which is expected to be finished by late August.
"The goal of the board this year is to make this physical plant as exceptional as the education the students are getting," said Ray McDonald Jr., trustees chairman.
But even with all the change waiting in the wings, those gathered for commencement Friday wanted to make sure the newest class of graduates knew that their success and dedication to their studies were not only noticed, but appreciated.
And, if they felt a little like they would be missing something since they are alumni now and wouldn't get a chance to go to classes in the "new" school, Anderson encouraged the seniors to stop by one of the classrooms after the ceremony. There, he noted, they would find a newly installed double-pane window.
"We have already started," he said of the renovation project. "So you can't say it started after you left -- no, it's already started."
Twenty students represented the Class of 2011, one receiving a diploma in absentia.
Mack Thompson, a junior, and Sarah Best, sophomore, were there to cheer on teammates and friends. Both students said they participated in basketball, tennis and soccer.
"It was hard when it was Senior Night for the sports," Mack said. "We were talking about (graduation), and we think we're probably going to cry."
"I'm excited to see them have new adventures but I'm sad to see them go at the same time," added Sarah.
Heather Wells and Tressa Horn turned out to support graduate Kim Martell, who attends their church.
"She's my assistant (at Fringe Salon) and she's a youth leader at our church, Bethel," Ms. Wells said. "She's just an awesome kid."
Kim also gave a shout out to Ms. Wells during the program. As each graduate's name was called out to receive a diploma, he or she was allowed a moment to pay tribute to friends, family and teachers who had helped them reach their goals.
Two teachers were also recognized for their role in the students' lives.
"Every year I go to the senior class and I ask them for their counsel on who should receive the excellence in teaching award," Anderson said, explaining that one is given for the Lower School and one for the Upper School.
"Our choices are seldom difficult to make. The only criteria is they have to be teaching a minimum of three years."
This year's recipients were Bonnie Hughes, a first-grade teacher, and Diane Price, chairman of the English department, who has received the award twice before.
And then recognition was given to Mary Beth Bokop, whose real name Anderson admitted he hadn't even known before that day.
"We have someone that has been coming in every day, day in and day out, for as long as I can remember and I have been here six years," he said. "I pay her nada, squat, zero, and she's always here, in the library helping.
"She's someone who can always be counted on and she has no reason to be here. She has no children, no grandchildren here."
This year, Anderson continued, she finished her 10th year of volunteering.
"In fact, I don't know her real name. We had to go get her real name. All we know her as is Miss B," he said.
Leigh Tanner, science department chairperson, was selected by the senior class to deliver the faculty address.
She paid homage to her "19 favorite seniors" by saying they were the reason she teaches.
"Every soon-to-be graduate has touched my life in a very special way," she said. "What a priceless treasure. I truly cannot think of a more rewarding way to spend each of my days."
Her "graduation gift" to them was a few of the lessons she had herself learned over the years -- that learning is a process, to stay focused, stay determined and live life with firm goals in mind -- and challenged them to persevere and lead when called upon.
In his introduction of this year's valedictorian, Anderson said she came to the school as a "reluctant person." Up until April, he said Ama Zbarcea "couldn't wait" to get out of N.C. and Wayne Country Day.
"Then all of her acceptance (letters) started coming. Now she has all of these choices she could make if she really wanted, and there was a lump in her little throat," he said. "'I kind of like it here in N.C.' and then the other day, (she said) 'I'm going to miss this school. I love this school. I love what everybody has done for me.'"
She was an exemplary student, the headmaster said, taking 11 advanced placement courses and achieving a 5.456 grade-point average, "as perfect as you're going to get."
The Romanian-born student moved to the U.S. 13 years ago, then to Wayne County with her family when she was in eighth grade. In the fall, she will attend UNC-Chapel Hill and study genetic biology and international business.
"We must always be true to ourselves," she said to her classmates. "Our accomplishments have resulted from an honest pursuit of what matters to us, and all future successes must come the same way. An honest and consistent approach to life and its challenges demonstrates a person's true character, and when it matters most, we will turn to those who know us best for friendship and support."