Garner Cleveland Record

A ‘really, really smart class’ at Cleveland High School

Cleveland High Class of 2015 graduate James Smith hugs his mother, Michelle Smith, as his father Mark and grandmother Dot Smith watch. James Smith will join the Marines in July.
Cleveland High Class of 2015 graduate James Smith hugs his mother, Michelle Smith, as his father Mark and grandmother Dot Smith watch. James Smith will join the Marines in July. jwhitfield@newsobserver.com

For the first time in three years, the graduating class at Cleveland High School got to graduate like it wanted to – on the football field, under a bright, shining sun. Here’s a look at Friday night’s commencement ceremony.

The ceremony: Both of the first two graduating classes were forced inside by rain during graduation ceremonies, but on Friday night was the charm, as students took their places on the Cleveland High School football field for commencement. The Class of 2015 included 292 graduates, 60 of them high honors graduates and another 51 who graduated with honors. The Class of 2015 also included 38 N.C. Scholars.

Mortarboard mania: The Cleveland High Class of 2015 is a communicative one. Dozens of mortarboards were decorated with a variety of messages. Some explained where the graduate will attend college, others shared photos from the graduate’s high school days. Others carried Bible verses. Topping the list was one that drew on the Disney movie The Lion King. The mortarboard read simply “Hakuna Matata No Worries.”

“Really, really smart” class: Principal Anne Meredith, in an interview before Friday’s ceremony, praised the class of 2015. “They are really, really smart. They’re a smart class. And funny. They probably, as much as anybody have helped develop some traditions here,” Meredith said.

Farewell, Part II: Friday’s commencement ceremony meant the end of the secondary education for the Class of 2015, but it also marked the end of a 31-year career in education for Meredith, the only principal the six-year old school has had. She retires at the end of June and will move to the tropical climes of Key West, Florida in July. “I’m glad to be going out with them. I feel like I’m graduating again,” Meredith said.

Let the sun shine: The Class of 2015 marks the third class to graduate from Cleveland High School. But it’s the first to actually hold its commencement ceremony on the football field, where it was meant to be. Rain forced each of the previous two graduation ceremonies indoors at the last minute.

Memorable lines: Salutatorian William Michael Taylor was excited to address the crowd. “I have received no higher honor than to stand before you today,” Taylor said. He also stressed the value of hard work. “I feel successful not because I made straight A’s. I feel successful because I worked hard and my grades reflected that hard work.” Valedictorian Shawn Patrick Behunin, who transferred to Cleveland High as a senior, saluted his classmates for making him welcome at a new school. “I entered Cleveland High School as a senior who felt like a freshman for the second time, and you welcomed me in and accepted me when you didn’t have to,” Behunin told his classmates.

Discipline to the end: Graduates sat on the field facing the end zone nearest the school, rather than facing the crowd that nearly filled the home stands. Meredith joked that she didn’t want the graduates looking at the pond that occupies part of the back property of the school. Turns out, that’s where the Class of 2015 pulled off its senior prank, when many of them took floaties and other beach toys to the pond and enjoyed an impromptu swim. And those chairs the graduates sat in? Their penance for pulling off the prank was to set the field up for their own graduation.

Whitfield: 919-829-4823;

Twitter: @GarnerCleveland

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