Garner Cleveland Record

Cleveland’s first class leaves lasting mark

A group of Cleveland High graduates pose during a break in the storm after a graduation ceremony at the school's gymnasium. It was Cleveland's first graduationg class.
A group of Cleveland High graduates pose during a break in the storm after a graduation ceremony at the school's gymnasium. It was Cleveland's first graduationg class.

The storms that have the greatest effect are slow moving ones. Wind and rain linger longer, reshaping the area over which they pass.

The 271-member Class of 2013 graduated in its gymnasium, its roof sheltering it from Tropical Storm Andrea. But the slower moving storm was the class itself: the school’s first graduating class spent three years molding Cleveland High into more or less what they wanted it to be.

Most of the class spent their freshman year at West Johnston High School before that freshman class split, half populating one of two new high schools in Johnston County. So for three years, this group helped establish a new school culture, new clubs and new traditions, unchained by the inertia of pre-existing norms and uninhibited by influences of upperclassmen.

“You didn’t have the pressure of ‘I have to do it this way.’ You could make it your own. It was your way of doing things because you were starting it,” valedictorian Lauren Garrett said. “It wasn’t scary to start clubs or leadership positions, because you didn’t have seniors already there doing their own thing. We got to start fresh.”

Garrett posted a 5.03 GPA while serving as National Honor Society president and maintaining involvement in student government, swimming, track and cross country, the latter as a captain. She volunteered at Johnston Memorial Hospital and was a Caswell Retreat leader.

She will head off to North Carolina State University in the fall to study biomedical engineering. Her mother, also an engineer and N.C. State graduate, said the new school proved a boon to her daughter and the other students.

“I kind of wanted her to stay at West but she wanted to branch out. She became a lot more involved with the school. They paved their way everything they did,” her mother said. “It developed her leadership skills a lot more than being in a school that had already been established.”

Co-Salutatorian Uzoamaka Obodo also appreciated the experience of building something and the chance to experiment and explore new ideas.

“We learned that food is the best way for people to get involved in something,” she quipped.

Obodo, who will attend Cornell and major in molecular biology with the intention of attending medical school, said she’ll treasure memories of her pioneer class.

“There were a lot of amazing people. We had a lot thrown at us over the years, and we stuck through it, through ups and downs,” Obodo said.

Obodo, who has lived in Johnston County for 10 years since immigrating with her family from Nigeria, wants to be a doctor like her father, and leans toward being either an immuno-biologist or neurologist.

She noted the team spirit at sporting events and co-salutatorian and student government president Arun Sandhu also noted the football team’s run into the third round of the 3AA playoffs. The band emerged as a force in a county known for good marching bands as well.

“It’s really cool how we were the ones that started everything and were the first to graduate, and we set the standards,” Sandhu said. “It makes us feel really honored that we were part of this big starting point.”

Sandhu will attend UNC-Chapel Hill, and though her major is undecided she has known since middle school that she wants to become a doctor. She and Obodo both were actively involved in the club Health Occupation Students of America; Sandhu had started in the organization at West Johnston as a freshman and was an officer for her last two years of school.

Garrett, Obodo and Sandhu each spoke at graduation, which had been scheduled to be held outside. Thought a little more crammed, they also didn’t seem to mind being indoors, each suggesting that air conditioning might have trumped June heat.

They touched on familiar themes in their speeches; Obodo recalled the camaraderie and inspiration she gleaned from her catalytic group of peers, Garrett talked about not being afraid to fail, achieve or follow one’s heart, and Sandhu said classmates should remember their roots and use experiences to build themselves in the future.

Later, Obodo said she’s confident that the school’s patriarchal class leaves Ram Country in good hands.

“I see them picking up where we left off. They are so bright,” she said. “I’m so happy leaving the school in their hands.”