DOBSON — While Principal Kevin Via called a high school diploma one of the most important documents people receive, the dominant theme of Friday night’s Surry Early College commencement ceremony was on things not in textbooks.
Learning to be oneself, not being afraid to fight injustices and choosing careers based on happiness rather than money were among the challenges highlighted as 80 graduates in dark-blue gowns listened from the floor of the Surry Community College gymnasium.
The Surry Early College High School of Design, located on the SCC campus, opened in 2006 to allow students from diverse backgrounds around the county to take college classes while also earning a high school diploma. Some of those graduating were listed as receiving associate degrees and earning college credits along with their diplomas, with Friday night’s commencement group reportedly the largest in the school’s history.
Although their courses of study have varied greatly — with some earning certificates to go right to work in fields such as cosmetology and others to attend four-year colleges — the grads were urged to use their common experience at SECHS as a springboard to the future.
“There’s still so much left for us to do,” Carol Gause, one of the student speakers for the program, said from a stage filled with college and county school officials along with SECHS administrators.
“Your life is your opportunity to do stuff — what that stuff is, it’s up to you to decide,” Gause told her fellow graduates. “It’s that simple.”
Though lighthearted in her approach, Gause did hint of the general uncertainty faced by graduates in a troubled economy as they look to the future, including herself. “I might even get a job — anything’s possible, right?”
Yet no matter what happens, the grads should stay curious, learn from failure “and above all, be kind,” Gause added.
Such sentiments were continued by Friday night’s guest speaker, Victoria Calhoun, the SECHS teacher of the year for 2016-2017.
Calhoun admitted that she was apprehensive about addressing the crowd and didn’t know what she was going to say.
“So I did like most of you and I Googled graduation speeches on the Internet,” the teacher said. This produced an array of results, from the humorous to the boring, but Calhoun settled on some basic lessons for life.
One is for students to pick a job they will enjoy, not for financial gain. “Choose a career you love, and the money will follow,” Calhoun said.
She also told the graduates to be themselves and not let other people define who they are, and to stand up for what they believe. “History is full of people like that,” Calhoun said, citing the names of Rosa Parks and others.
“Don’t turn a blind eye to injustices you see in this world,” the keynote speaker advised.
“Pay attention to what your government does — and if you don’t like that, tell them.”
Rather than paint a rosy picture for what’s ahead, students McKenzie Boyles and Nisha Borad said in their onstage remarks that some bad times are inevitable.
“You must not quit,” Boyles urged. “Rest if you must — but don’t you quit. Success is failure turned inside out.”
Borad said there is no doubt the graduates will experience setbacks, but they should keep their dreams alive.
“The key is to weather the storm,” she said.
Borad said her hope is that in 10 years when the SECHS Class of 2016 holds a reunion, every member will be able to say he or she did everything possible to reach their goals.
There is every reason to believe this might be the case, based on the education and sense of accomplishment the graduates now have under their belts from attending the Dobson institution, adults on the program said.
“We all know it took a lot of hard work to get where you are tonight,” said Calhoun, the teacher who spoke.
Principal Via agreed.
“These students have accomplished many great things to this point,” he said, “and they’ll accomplish many great items in the future.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.