Nicki Artis leans against a dark blue locker. His smile gives way to laughter as he talks to a Goldsboro High School student. It might seem like just another conversation, but Artis is actually defusing potential drama in the halls. That's his gift.
For more than 13 years, some have known him as the guy in the uniform. To others, he's the one they see every morning when they're arriving to school -- the one who sends them home with a wave or handshake as they leave. He's a constant at sporting events and graduations.
But those who know Artis best say he's more than that. They talk about his passion and his desire to see the GHS student body succeed and gain an education. They call him things like "role model" and "mentor."
So when, after all these years, Artis walked the halls one last time in November of 2017, it was tough.
Let's be real. The community hasn't always seen Goldsboro High School as the best school assignment for a resource officer. But during an exclusive interview with he Pride, Artis talked about how he sees things differently.
"I think that things are getting better and things are improving, and I like what I'm seeing," he said. "I've seen here at GHS that nurturing that the students need and knowing that someone cares about them. I really do believe that what you see now is only going to get better. Definitely."
And nobody would know better than Artis. He sees us in the morning when we get off the bus. He's there in the middle of class when we're just walking by. You'd find him in the cafeteria during lunch talking to students and teachers. He was watching at the end of the day and at after school programs. He was always there.
"This is my second home," he told the Pride. "I think I spent more time here than at my own house."
So when he talked to the staff and gave a farewell speech, he got choked up. And later, when he spoke to the Pride, he said GHS would always be "my beat" and talked about his very best moments at the school -- like when a student who had "a lot going on" graduated and had "done well for themselves."
"To see some of these students that were on the edge, that you know didn't have that role model in their life, on that verge of giving up ... just working with those students and just, you know, seeing them just grow and blossom, I still talk to them now," he said. "I remember when they were at that time in their life when they were on the verge of giving up and, you know, throwing in the towel. They didn't feel like anybody cared. When I gave them that push, they took it."
And he made it clear that despite his new job with the Goldsboro Police Department as a liaison between the GPD and Parks and Rec, he would never truly leave the Cougar family -- at least not in his heart.
So before he got into his car and exited the school parking lot one last time, he delivered some parting words for the students that were fitting for a man with so much love in his heart for the Cougar family. "Finish high school. Get an education," he said. "Education is very, very important. I know it's hard and that we're going to have challenges in our lives, but I want them to work hard at getting an education and going on to college, the military, and the workforce. Because education is very important. ... Take care of each other."