GRADUATION 2023: Four years of changes, thriving for North Stanly graduates

By Teresa Crump, for the SNAP

It was a perfect Friday night for the 60th Commencement Exercises at R.N. Jeffrey Stadium. The weather was beautiful and everyone was excited. The bleachers were packed before 6:45 p.m. for the ceremony, as loved ones waited for the 134 NSHS seniors to take their seats.

Senior Eliza Burns opened the ceremony with the “Star Spangled Banner” before classmate Jaxon Herlocker welcomed everyone.

Abigail Wahl speaks of dealing with challenges. (Photo by DAWN LUCAS)

Abigail Wahl, student body president and distinguished scholar, reminded her classmates that change does not have to be scary or impossible.

“We owe it to ourselves to know that the future we wish to see is within reach,” said Wahl.

She recounted personal experiences and conversations that had challenged her before declaring that they were all capable of “changing our communities for the better.” Before closing, she promised them that any changes they try to make within their communities — even small ones — “will make a world of difference.”

Ameno Morgan discusses the Laying of the Flowers at the North Stanly commencement ceremony. (Photo by DAWN LUCAS)

Head Junior Marshal Ameno Morgan explained the Laying of the Flowers as an opportunity to remember those who were no longer with them. He detailed the symbolism of colors included in the arrangement and asked the audience for a moment of silence before Dean of Students Dr. David Allois recognized students who had committed to the military. Allois then introduced commencement speaker Joanna Gagliardi.

Gagliardi, a veteran teacher and NSHS alumni, was fully prepared to address the class of 2023 in her Comet blue dress and red Converse sneakers. Enthusiastically and without notes, she walked off the stage to stand right before the graduates.

Joanna Gagliardi speaks before North Stanly graduates Friday night. (Photo by DAWN LUCAS)

She reflected on the challenges the seniors had overcome in their four years — including four changes in administration and remote learning. She told them she was confident they would thrive, though, because “that’s what Comets do.” She outlined her advice using the acronym COMETS: Commit; stay Open-minded,

Motivated and Excited; be True to yourself; and be Steady.
Gagliardi reminded everyone that “slow and steady wins the race,” and laughingly added, “but make sure you are in the race.”

Gagliardi returned to the stage to join Allois, Dr. Frank Cagle, Dr. Andrea Russell, Dr. Amy Blake-Lewis and school board members Robin Whittaker and Dustin Lisk to greet graduates. Assistant Principal Cagle called the names of 134 diploma recipients, including one for Joseph Riley Hathcock, a classmate who passed away in May 2022.

Following the presentation of diplomas, Principal Russell provided final remarks. She asked that everyone take a moment of gratitude before requesting that the seniors turn around to face the audience. She told the seniors: “Find your grown-ups and give them a round of applause.”