GRADUATION 2024: A look back at Stanly STEM Early College

Published 2:55 pm Friday, June 21, 2024

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Stanly STEM Early College’s graduation was May 23. The following speeches were presented that day.

William Aldridge, IV

Good evening, everyone! My name is William Aldridge.
Before I get started, I need to ask if there are any individuals named Michael in the audience tonight? If so please raise your hand. Thank you so much, that concludes our Mike check.
I would like to give a special thank you to those of you sitting in the audience this evening. Without your support, none of us could have made it this far. Whether you are friends, family or as some would say “acquaintances,” you have been invaluable resources that have helped to make us the people that we are today.
Second, I want to give thanks to God. Without Him I could not be standing here in front of you all today. As the years have gone on, He has been a constant, firm foundation and I give Him all the praise and honor for what I have been able to accomplish through and for Him.
Third, I would like to give thanks to the faculty and staff of Stanly STEM for not just the opportunity to speak this evening, but also for their unwavering support and dedication to student success. I know all of us here have found not just educators in our halls, but mentors and people who exemplify not only leadership but fun at a level we can all aspire to.
I can recall many afternoons hanging out with Mrs. Hiatt or Mrs. Hranek or Mr. Richardson talking about literally anything from World of Warcraft to Ancient Literature to World War III.
One of my favorite memories from freshman year highlights this well. We had just gotten back to Mr. Richardson’s room from lunch, but the staff was still in a meeting, and Mr. Richardson had left his Amazon account logged in on his smart board. So, being the studious, temperate individuals that we were, we opened Prime Video, and started watching a Madea family funeral. Mr. Richardson walked back in not 15 minutes later, absolutely dumbfounded, and brought the entire staff into the room to see what we had done. They all burst out laughing, and if I recall correctly, I think we finished the movie later that week.
As unnatural as this seems, this was pretty much the norm for us in the first year. I remember eating lunch in Mrs. Gardiner’s room back when it was basically a broom closet, not having enough printer paper at times for handouts and constantly being shushed by the Albemarle High teachers that were still on our hall, despite the fact that they were louder than us. You see, it wasn’t just our freshman year as students, it was our freshman year as a school. Before us, there was no Stanly STEM.
This is the point that I want to highlight most to both the graduates as well as you in the audience as we end our high school experience. Each one of these graduates that you see before you today made the choice to step out into uncharted territory. We chose to take a risk on something that had no guarantee of success.
The last five years have been both agonizingly long and a blur simultaneously. We have experienced more “once in a lifetime” events within a half decade than many of us would like, but we stood the test of time. Graduates, the fact that you sit here today shows not only your resilience, but your willingness to venture where no one else has gone before. We have each gone through trials and opportunities where we could have thrown in the towel, but no matter how difficult, we came through together.
You know, I have always been a very big fan of poetry, as Mrs. Hiatt could probably attest. In preparing this speech I wanted to find something that would speak to our high school journey. I believe it was Tennyson who wrote,
“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
As we step out into the world, be that through college, work, or otherwise, that is our legacy. We are trailblazers.
Graduates, in closing I charge you with this. Go out into the world and do what it is that you do best. Strive. Seek. Find. Never yield. Thank you.

Jazmin Arriaga Aviles

Good evening, parents, friends, faculty and class of 2024. My name is Jazmin Arriaga-Aviles and it is an honor to be standing here in front of you all today.
As I stand here on the stage of my high school graduation, I cannot help but look back and reminisce about these last four years. It feels like just yesterday we were in Mr. Richardson’s class wearing masks, while learning about the news around the world. Or the start of my business, Sweets by Jaz, when I would bring cakes and other sweets for birthday celebrations. Or that time that the radiator caught fire and we were all rushed out of the building.
I think we can all agree that we have made some pretty sweet memories with one another, and it feels bittersweet to say goodbye to the place where we have grown up and developed into the adults that we are now becoming.
To say the least, my senior year was probably the hardest for me throughout my entire high school career. It started off with a very painful loss and this affected my mental health, which even made getting out of bed difficult. But if there’s one thing that this very difficult circumstance taught me, it was to appreciate what we have and to live in the moment.
I think I speak for many of us when I say that I could not wait for graduation. I was counting down the years, months, weeks, days and hours, which have now merely turned into minutes. But oftentimes, this makes us think too far ahead and forget to live in the moment. And before we know it, moments just become memories, just like all of the ones that we created these past four years.
So take one second to soak it all in and appreciate what is right in front of you because as Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
I would like to thank all of my classmates, teachers and family. You have all played a crucial role in shaping me into the woman that I am today. To my teachers, thank you for always believing in me and pushing me to do better academically. It has been a challenging but rewarding four years. To my classmates, I am proud of each and every one of you for making it this far. Despite all of the unspoken hardships, losses, sleepless nights and even enduring a pandemic, we did it. Congratulations on persevering and making it to the finish line.
To my younger self, thank you for never giving up and always working super hard. The world is now at your fingertips and you’ve worked so hard to achieve everything you set your mind to. And lastly, thank you to my family for being my rock. To my little brother, thank you for always encouraging me to keep going and do better. I am super proud of you and I hope that as your older sister, my example is of good use. Stay true to yourself with your head held high. To my parents, you have been my greatest support system and inspiration. Without all of your hard work and sacrifices, I would not be standing here today. Everything I have achieved so far, it’s because of you. Mamá, papá, gracias por las infinitas oportunidades y puertas que me han abierto con sus esfuerzos. Esto es para ustedes. Lo hicimos!
As this night comes to an end, it is also only the beginning. I am excited to see what the future holds for all of us and I have no doubt that you will all go out and do great things. With that being said, remember that as a very inspirational and intelligent man once said, “it is always a great day to be a dolphin.” Congratulations class of 2024!

Marissa Geronimo

Good evening to our faculty, guests, families and friends who are here to celebrate this momentous occasion, and to the class of 2024 graduates whom I am honored to be sharing my success with.
My name is Marissa Geronimo, and I am so grateful to be standing here before you all to celebrate the ending of this chapter. As we move forward today in our future careers, academics, and endeavors, I would like to honor and celebrate the past four years we have shared together.
Coming into this experience, I am sure we all had no clue what to expect or what we were getting ourselves into. As rough as it may have been, as many sleepless nights as we have spent studying and learning, the many days that we stressed the 11:59 deadlines, and as some of us may have dreaded the academic process, I am glad to finally be able to celebrate the fact that “we did it.”
Since we never got to experience an eighth grade graduation due to what seemed like the end of the world, I am so lucky to have the privilege to be here in person with you all today to celebrate the day we have all looked forward to. Even though we may have struggled with managing our grades, being student-athletes, working part or full-time, taking care of our families or simply going through rough teenage experiences, we still have always had this day ahead of us.
I am sure that 2024 has seemed so far out of our reach, and we have all looked toward the future and the end, but I think it is important to sit in this moment and reflect on what we were doing while we were looking so far ahead.
A wise woman once told me that it is important to “reflect on our memories, rather than dwelling on our past.” In this, I learned the importance of reflecting on my last four years here in good spirits, rather than mistakenly dwelling on smaller and more negative moments in which I learned so much from.
Because of what I have learned, I want to propose to you all the idea of using today to reflect on the memories made these last four years, instead of dwelling on the ending of this chapter.
When we took on this opportunity to graduate with an associate degree, and stressed over what felt like choosing a forever career at the ages of 13 and 14, we still persevered and found our niche, making good memories and learning hard lessons. I mean, by now, the majority of us have been able to pick a college, maybe find a career, or even find a passion to make a living for ourselves all within just four years.
Those four years may have seemed long, but looking back it feels like just four days ago we were doing our early college experience class with Mrs. Terry to learn about this program and its process, or stressing at the end of the month to complete our writing bingo’s for Mrs. Tomasino, or even waiting for Mr. Adams to remind us what a great day it was to be a dolphin on our daily announcements.
Yes we have all had our ups and downs, however, this is not an opportunity that I think any of us would trade for the world. Even though you may have experienced some academic burnout, maybe some friendship breakups, or even a bad case of “senioritis,” these last few years in STEM have taught us valuable life lessons, given us the memories of a lifetime, and helped us to find ourselves as individuals.
As many hurdles as we have faced and as many times as we have been tempted to revert back to a regular high school, we, the class of 2024, have all pushed through and made it here together. It may be hard to let go of this chapter in our lives, but I want you all to soak in this moment while you can, because we will never experience these bittersweet feelings of ending high school again.
Here are a few tips for moving on from this chapter: Be grateful for the opportunity to graduate with an associate degree, be resourceful to the future students who are to come, be intentional about using what you have learned here in your future and finally be proud of yourselves for making it this far.
I am so honored to have been a part of such an amazing program like the STEM early college, and blessed to have been set up for success.
I would lastly like to say thank you to all of my peers for sharing this experience with me. Thank you to the faculty who I would have never imagined would have helped me to find my purpose in this world and for always pushing me to my full academic potential. Thank you to the loved ones that we have lost along the way, like those on my cap, who are watching us grow on our paths. And finally, thank you to the parents, families, friends and guests who have supported us along the way and have chosen to celebrate our success and final moments as high school students.
Congratulations, class of 2024, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for you all! I am so glad to call myself a Stanly STEM alum and for the last time ever, I am honored to say that, “it’s a great day to be a dolphin.” Thank you!

Sarah Vue

Good afternoon. My name is Sarah Vue. I can’t believe we’ve finally made it! It feels just like yesterday we were logging into Zoom to attend classes. Online school wasn’t much and was boring at times, but I find it funny how most of us tried hiding behind the “turn off camera” button just to be told to make sure that our cameras were on. And now here we are moments away from graduating.
Over these past four years, I’m sure we have all made many unforgettable memories, whether they were good such as the times we’ve connected because we found that we all had a common interest in clubs or challenging like the hot and humid spring day we spent at Carowinds waiting in line for hours but never got the chance to ride anything.
A lot of good memories came from classes of all the teachers who created an environment where we could learn and bond with one another. There were many funny moments where teachers share old memories, teach a new topic and make comments that would make us crack a laugh or smile. And also awkward moments when the class would be dead silent because nobody would speak up to answer the question. Not only did the teachers help us create memories, but also the friends and classmates we had along the way.
I hope that we will forever cherish the conversations, small talks, jokes and laughs we’ve made with friends and classmates. There’s no denying that we shared and created great memories with one another. Memories we made also went beyond the classroom. Some of us started working our first job and quickly realized how stressful it is to handle school full-time and work part-time, leaving us wondering if we were even prepared for the adult life. Others went on vacations where they explored new places and discovered new kinds of foods and cultures. Some did sports where they trained hard for game days, celebrated wins, while also learning to improve from their losses.
As we step into the next chapter, it’s important to cherish all the memories we’ve made together. Each memory we’ve made during high school, whether good or bad, has played a role in making up who we are now and who we will become in the future.

Stanly STEM graduates:

William Stephen Aldridge IV
Reyli Edgar Alvarado
Jazmin Arriaga-Aviles
Ashley Mariel Barcenas
Landen Asher Blue
Keith Marley Malone Brown
Brody Cooper Buffington
Lacy Joy Clark
Abigail Grace Clayton
Charlize Alicia Colon
Emma Nichole Donnally
Lauren Elizabeth Gagliardi
Sasha Marrie Garcia
Marissa Lynn Geronimo
Malaysia Shanise Green
River James Hash
Bryson Gage Hicks
Bayle Rae Hill
Kayleigh Delane Hudson
Rylee Jayna Klinger
Kanika Kumar
Jocelyn Danielle Little
Naialie Lor
Nathan Peev Xwm Lor
Hayden Lee Lowder
Gage Odom Maher
Nicholas Kenneth Meades
Kong Shia James Moua
Armando Popoca Jr.
Russell Kline Poweska
Ava Love Russell
Brisa Maria Suarez Manrique
Haylee Jo Tucker
Michael Adam Tucker
Sarah Vue
Rachel Rae Young