Williams challenges North Stanly senior to ‘keep your hands up, and eyes open’

Published 9:25 am Sunday, May 30, 2021

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North Stanly High School’s class of 2021 celebrated its commencement at R.N. Jeffrey Stadium on the school campus Friday evening.

The event, delayed for 25 minutes by a rain shower, saw 120 seniors cross the stage.

Following a welcome by Rachel Frick, an acapella version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by Corey Poole.

Avery Carrick presented the first honor address of the evening, and focused on how the COVID pandemic had changed the final year of school for the seniors.

Avery Carrick gives the honors address at North Stanly’s graduation Friday. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

“It was not the senior year we hoped for,” she said, “but we are fortunate to be able to come together for an in-person graduation, where we can celebrate our hard work and effort.”

Carrick also opined that the pandemic may have helped ready the seniors for life after high school.

“Our class may be better prepared than others because of the way we have faced adversity,” she said, before encouraging her classmates to “make history, and write the future.”

Alexandra Childress spoke next, and recognized the toughness and persistence of the graduating class.

“We have been through four years, four principals and four muddy truck contests,” she said. “We didn’t let the pandemic destroy our school spirit. We have persevered as Comets, and we have been resilient through all that we have overcome.”

Childress thanked the faculty, her fellow classmates and the parents and families for their support before reminding the seniors to never forget their time together.

“Remember where you came from,” she said.

Senior Madison Shaver then introduced the evening’s commencement speaker.

As he reflected on the 2020-21 school year, retiring NSHS art teacher John Williams noted that the seniors’ annual Carowinds trip was one of many activities canceled by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t go for many reasons, one of which is having not been able to ride the roller coasters with you all,” he told the graduating seniors, before recounting a family Carowinds trip as a fifth grader and comparing the anticipation of riding the park’s signature coaster, “White Lightning” to one’s trek through elementary, middle and high school.

“It’s exciting to think about, but it quickly turns to pure terror when the time comes to do it,” he said. “Maybe you had the same feelings…fear and excitement all at once.”

John Williams

Describing the bumps, drops and climbs of “White Lightning” to the ups and downs of student life, Williams noted the similarities between the two.

“School is a lot like a roller coaster,” he said. “As eighth graders, you were on top. But then you dropped quickly in the ranks as Comet freshmen. These past four years have had small hills, loops, drop offs and even an unexpected dark tunnel that you thought would never end. But even through the tunnel, there was laughter and the fear of what lies ahead, and a ride you never thought would end is now over in the blink of an eye,” said Williams, before reminding the seniors that high school is not their final ride.

“What ride do you want to get on next?” he asked. “Maybe it’s one that’s more in your comfort zone, or maybe you dare to find an even bigger ride…all that matters is that you get on another roller coaster and decide how you’re going to ride it…eyes closed, fists clenched onto the bar for dear life? Or are you going to throw your hands in the air with your eyes wide open and take in every single second of what it has to offer?”

In closing, Williams reminded the graduates that he, along with them, will be beginning a new chapter in life, and encouraged them to meet the challenge head-on.

“Today, I’m joining you on a new ride,” he said. “We are all excited, sad, scared and unsure of what lies ahead. But that’s ok because we’re all doing this together….so, class of 2021, throw your hands in the air, open your eyes wide and don’t you dare shut them.”