It didn’t take long for groggy, 9 a.m. eyes to open wide, glaring at the realization a new beginning was moments away.
By about 10:15 Tuesday, 308 East Wake High School seniors were pronounced high school graduates in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts’ Memorial Auditorium in downtown Raleigh.
The bright lights may have made the trip across the stage a blur for some of those who earned diplomas, but they couldn’t wash out the bigger picture. One long life journey was ending as another commenced, all at the same time.
“It’s amazing, it’s relieving and just exciting,” said a quavering Shaquilla Allen, clasping onto her new credentials after she led the Class of 2014 into the spotlight. “It means everything. It means a new beginning – a fresh start.”
East Wake’s graduation ceremony went off without a hitch and in a timely fashion despite the unique conglomerate of four small schools hearing speeches from a quartet of valedictorians.
Honoring a fallen Warrior: Madison Bell, the East Wake School of Engineering Systems valedictorian, led off with words of inspiration.
Bell got the full attention and reverence from the crowd when she recognized Jacob Spain, who died in May 2012 and would have been a fellow senior this year. The audience erupted before freezing in silence as emotion overtook Bell.
“Without him, I wouldn’t have made it,” she said.
Bell went on to urge her classmates to go out in the world and find their passion.
“Don’t worry about failure,” she said. “ ... You owe it to yourself to accomplish everything you had hoped for.”
Advice for the future: Keynote speeches were made by valedictorians Devin Williams and DeAndre Wilson.
Williams, who led the East Wake School of Arts, Education and Global Studies academically, talked about the 13-year expedition that led up to Tuesday’s ceremony, but he looked forward too.
“It’s time for us to begin the next phase of life and learn what the real world is all about,” Williams said.
He encouraged fellow graduates to take time to do things that make them happy and to measure life by happiness, rather than wealth.
Wilson, the animated East Wake School of Integrated Technology class leader, opened his remarks by listing off some of the million things the graduates had to do to reach their big day.
He left his classmates with several guidelines to follow going forward, including, “Get this money,” and “Once graduated, stay graduated – don’t come back to football games every so often.” He also advised his classmates to thank those who have supported them and continue to support them, and to “surround yourself with loved ones and those who make you happy.”
A world of opportunities: Christina Miller, the East Wake School of Health Science valedictorian, capped the four speeches with words of encouragement.
Miller spoke of perseverance, being there as a helping hand for others and living life to the fullest. She closed by reminding the soon-to-be grads their futures are what they make them.
“I urge you to go further,” Miller said. “ ... Reach for what you want to do and not what others expect you to do. Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life – make yours count for something.”