WAKE FOREST — Like other high schools across the Triangle, Heritage High School held a graduation ceremony Friday, complete with junior marshals, the concert band playing “Pomp and Circumstance” and the presentation of diplomas.
But Heritage High’s commencement was different in one major aspect: There were only three graduates.
The school, which opened in 2010 with just freshmen and sophomores, won’t officially have a senior class until this fall. But Heritage had no intention of depriving graduation memories for three students who took enough additional courses to earn their diplomas this year.
“I was surprised they’d do the whole ceremony for us,” said Jessica MacTavish, 18, of Wake Forest, one of the newly minted graduates.
The three took online courses to get enough credits for graduation.
MacTavish, who is moving back to Canada for community college, is actually graduating on schedule. She had gone to high school for three years at Ravenscroft School in North Raleigh before coming to Heritage this school year.
But the other two graduates are leaving high school early after only three years.
H’Lysa Kpa Rmah, 18, of Raleigh, took a full load of online and summer courses so she could graduate early and go to Wake Technical Community College to eventually become a nurse.
Rmah’s family emigrated from Vietnam six years ago because she said they “wanted freedom.” Among the people she hugged after the graduation ceremony was Laurie Tucker, Heritage’s English as a Second Language teacher.
“She’s been such a role model for the other ESL students,” said Deirdra Williams, Heritage’s dean of students.
Mikia Langford, 17, of Raleigh, also wanted to graduate early, so she took extra courses on her way to enrolling as a prelaw student at N.C. Central University this fall.
Langford brought 30 guests to the graduation, something that wouldn’t be possible at the multiple ceremonies going on in downtown Raleigh through Saturday as the Wake County school system holds ceremonies for 8,996 graduates.
Mark Savage, Heritage’s principal, said that when the school saw that it had students who were on pace for graduation this year, it decided to try to give them as much of a senior class experience as possible. This included selecting a motto, color and flower and a graduation ceremony.
“We weren’t just going to send them a letter saying they had graduated,” he said.
Unlike the ceremonies at the Raleigh Convention Center and Memorial Auditorium, Heritage’s ceremony was held at the school.
Savage said the small number of graduates allowed it to make things more intimate, including reading messages from the families as students walked across the stage.
“There aren’t enough words to say how much I love you,” said the message from Latisha Clark, Langford’s mother, as her daughter accepted her diploma.
It will be a more typical graduation for Heritage next year, with 350 graduates. And there will be larger classes than that in the future.
But Friday’s graduation will stand out in the school’s history.
“We won’t be having 25-minute graduations again,” Williams said.