Stanly STEM Early College celebrates first graduating class of 9 students

Published 11:41 am Tuesday, May 23, 2023

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History was made Monday night as nine Stanly STEM Early College seniors — all girls — took part in the commencement ceremony at the Stanly County Agri-Civic Center — the school’s first graduating class.

The students earned both their high school diploma and associate in science degree, all while maintaining an average grade point average of a 4.3.

“There’s some serious girl power on the stage,” principal Kelly Dombrowski said, to much applause. During their time at the STEM Early College, the students have taken around 200 college courses, were accepted to 35 colleges and were offered roughly $678,000 in scholarships.

“You are here tonight because you took a chance,” Dombrowski said. “You took a chance on a new early college, the STEM Early College. You are the first.”

The students came up with the mascot for the school — the dolphin — which is fitting, Dombrowski said, as the mammals are known for their intelligence and grace and teamwork, traits that helped the students overcome many obstacles, including the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sheylyn Riddle reflects on her time at STEM Early College.

Reflecting on her career at SSEC, Sheylyn Riddle discussed how challenging it had been, noting the graduating class that began with roughly 50 “motivated and inspired scholars” four years ago had been reduced to the nine students on stage.

“The students here today have worked hard, preserved through challenges and now, we are here, ready to embark on the next phase of our life,” Riddle said.

As difficult as it is to be the first group to accomplish anything, the nine students have become trailblazers, setting the standard for which future graduating classes will follow.

“We created a whole school around you,” said English instructor Kristina Hiatt, whom the graduates selected to give the commencement address. “You created an unwavering culture that continues today. That culture, our culture, started with you and will continue to impact generations of students.”

Hiatt told the students that life is hard and that while they will go through their share of struggles, life is also beautiful and they should “strive to find that beauty and that joy in every day.”

Whenever the students are struggling with what to do going forward, Hiatt hopes their default is making people feel seen, worthy and capable.

“A hero’s journey begins with the status quo, how everything is,” she said. “I hope your status quo can be and continues to be kindness and empathy.”

The SSEC Class of 2023 consists of Gisell Acosta, Kamilah Courtney, Amanda Dijosa, Holly Drye, Madison Lomax, Victoria Medlin, Trinity Moua, Sheylyn Riddle and Seneka Thao.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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