06/13/12 — Southern Wayne seniors make way across stage, into their futures

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Southern Wayne seniors make way across stage, into their futures

By Kelly Corbett
Published in News on June 13, 2012 1:46 PM

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Khadijah Johnson smiles at the crowd Tuesday during Southern Wayne High School's graduation. The ceremony consisted of speeches from David Joyner and Meagan Stott, the salutatorian and valedictorian of their class. There was also a special performance by the school's concert chorus.

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Susan Stone-Hawkins, left, smiles at Karen Urquilla Tuesday as she hands her a graduation cap. Mrs. Stone-Hawkins was Miss Urquilla's freshman English teacher.

MOUNT OLIVE -- Those who gathered to watch the 225 members of Southern Wayne High School's Class of 2012 stayed silent until every last name had been called and each newly minted graduate had crossed the stage.

Then it was time for thunderous applause to fill Mount Olive College's Kornegay Arena.

Graduates' families, friends and teachers celebrated with them as Southern Wayne's seniors officially said goodbye to high school Tuesday.

Many who watched the ceremony tried to capture their sons and daughters walking across the stage with their cameras and smart phones.

Tessa Atkinson, who graduated from Southern Wayne High School in 1979, was able to sit and watch her 17-year-old daughter, Karena Atkinson, receive her high school diploma 33 years later.

"Second and last," Mrs. Atkinson said. "It feels wonderful. Since the first one graduated, standards have changed a little bit. She did good."

After going home to relax and have some cake following the graduation ceremony, Karena Atkinson will prepare to study music at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in the fall.

Following a brief welcome and performance of "You Raise Me Up" by the concert chorus, the two top members of the 2012 graduating class spoke, recognizing certain peers and teachers who made a difference in their lives.

"I guess no matter how many times you practice in front of a mirror it doesn't get any easier," valedictorian Meagan Stott said as she began her speech.

Ms. Stott took her classmates through many memories over the past four years, from football games to hall passes and cafeteria food.

"Remember Kevin Wise and his goofy smile? How he wasn't ashamed to live a life that reflected Christ?" she asked.

Salutatorian David Joyner said his message was simple.

"Graduation is a time of happiness, excitement and reflection," he said. "Let's be grateful to ourselves and our mentors as we walk across the stage today. But don't let today be the highlight of your life. ... After all, we're just 225 of the millions of students who will graduate from high school this year."

In the fall, both Ms. Stott and Joyner will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dakota Toms, 18, will take a different path, chasing down his dream of being a firefighter.

Already a volunteer, he wants to work his way up.

"I'm pretty confident I'll be a firefighter in the Coast Guard," Toms said.

In July, he will head to the fire academy, and then he will make his way to New London, Conn., to begin studying at the United States Coast Guard Academy.

The experience of meeting new people is what Toms will miss the most, something he was able to do through his involvement with Junior Leadership of Wayne County.

Before the ceremony, students adorned in dark blue gowns filled the surrounding circle of the arena where several of the students rushed to write their names inside of their caps, plotting to throw them up high after the turning of the tassels.

Elana Lowery walked to her position in line in black socks holding the black heels she would be wearing minutes later. The 18-year-old had four chords and an honor stole representing her roles as a member of the National Honor Society, Science National Honor Society and Spanish National Honor Society. She is also an academic scholar and an honor graduate.

"Every honor class I could, I took," Ms. Lowery said, adding that she also played basketball and ran track.

She will head to East Carolina University in the fall.

"I'm grateful that I could finish," Ms. Lowery said. "I plan on becoming a nurse practitioner. I will miss high school work and the social life, because I know college work is not like high school work."