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West Stanly graduates 186, garners $5.6 million in scholarship funds

By Shannon Beamon, for the SNAP

As if to reflect the past year, West Stanly High School’s graduation started out with rain and ended with sunlight peeking through the clouds.

Despite COVID complications overshadowing their senior year, the class of 2021 ended with 186 student graduates, garnered $5.6 million in scholarship money for college and sent more than a dozen students straight into the military or workforce.

“Our accomplishments feel much greater because of the challenges we’ve faced,” said student council president Raeanna Faith Eudy.

Indeed, as students received their diplomas, some danced across the stage, some yelled out to their families, others even stopped to take selfies.

Principal McLendon honors Student of the Year Michael Crayton.

“This is only the beginning,” said Michael Crayton, WSHS Student of the Year. “I hope the best years of your life are yet to come.”

But losses played as big a role in shaping the class of 2021 as victories, students and faculty also noted.

As graduate Tiana Driver noted after the ceremony, COVID robbed their class of a lot of good moments.

“Due to my schedule, I was only (on campus) one day a week most of the year… we didn’t have senior night during football season, stuff like that,” said Driver. “It’s not what we pictured senior year would be.”

On top of that, some graduates had lost loved ones during their high school careers. Over a dozen of them carried white roses to recognize someone who couldn’t be at the graduation. As they walked across the stage, they set the roses in a vase at the end of the podium.

Graduate Blake Thompson was one of them. His brother, Jace, passed away in 2018 due to cancer. Jace would have been going into second grade the night his brother graduated.

“It’s tough not having him here for this,” his mother Jennifer Thompson said.

But despite their losses — or perhaps because of them — the class of 2021 has displayed a unique strength, insisted keynote speaker and Stanly County Schools Superintendent Jarrod Dennis.

“Your resiliency during these difficult times has made you strong,” Dennis said. “We are all in awe of your ability to carry on with your education when so much of society was shutting down. It is true that what did not break you, made you stronger.”

Honor speaker and graduate Abigail Phillips agreed and hoped it would give her fellow classmates courage for the future.

“Don’t be afraid to take jobs or internships,” Phillips said. “Have the courage to treat all people with respect, regardless of background or race… Take care of yourself, support your family, help those in need.”

WSHS’s graduates have already started to do that, especially through the way they show kindness, Dennis noted, pointing to the WSHS softball team.

Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis speaks to graduates.

After winning the state championship this year, the WSHS ladies made a point of generously congratulating their opponents, he said. They didn’t just say, “good game,” and move on, but encouraged the other team by name, praised specific plays and even comforted girls who were crying.

“That’s being kind to one another,” Dennis said. “That made me proud. Proud to be from Stanly County, to be from West Stanly High School. As you leave today, no matter where you are or what you do, please take that with you.”