Stanly STEM graduates ‘super seniors’

With the second overall graduating class in the school’s history and the first class of five-year “super seniors,” 36 graduates of the Stanly STEM Early College High School received diplomas at Thursday’s commencement exercises at the Stanly County Agri-Civic Center.

Principal Kelly Dombrowski recognized the super seniors, students who stayed an extra year and graduated with an associate degree from Stanly Community College.

Rylee Klinger led graduates, family and friends in the Pledge of Allegiance, and Michael Tucker delivered the invocation.

Speaking about Early STEM College memories, graduate Melissa Geronimo talked about feeling privileged to be speaking at the ceremony when students did not get to experience an eighth-grade graduation “due to what seemed like the end of the world,” referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though 2024 and graduation “had seemed so far out of our reach,” she added, “we’ve always had this day ahead of us…it’s important to sit in this moment and reflect what we were doing while we were looking so far ahead. A wise woman once told me that it’s important to reflect on our memories, rather than dwelling on our past.”

Geronimo said she and graduates should reflect on the positives instead of looking at graduation as the end of a 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 persevered, found our niche, made great memories and learned hard lessons.”

Graduate Sarah Vue said good memories of the Early STEM College included “in the classrooms and the teachers who created an environment where we were able to learn and bond with one another.”

For the distinguished student addresses, William Aldridge IV spoke about the faculty and staff, noting a class where students and faculty talked about “everything from World of Warcraft to ancient literature to World War III.”

Aldridge noted when he and his fellow gradates started “it was our freshman year as a school. Before us, there was no Stanly STEM…each one of these graduates that you see before you today made the choice to step out into uncharted territory.”

He added “the last five years have been both agonizingly long and a blur simultaneously. We’ve experienced more once in a lifetime events within a half-decade than most of us would have liked, but we stood the test of time.”

Aldridge said “as we step out in the world, be college work or otherwise, that is our legacy. We are trailblazers…Strive. Seek. Find. Never yield.”

Another distinguished gradate, Jazmin Aviles, said it felt bittersweet to “say goodbye to the place where we have grown up and developed into the adults we are now becoming.”

Aviles noted her senior year was the toughest “because it started off with a painful loss. This affected my mental health, which made even getting out of bed difficult.”

She added, “if there’s one thing that a very difficult circumstance taught me it was to appreciate what we have and to live in the moment.”

Graduate Emma Donnally then introduced the faculty speaker, Melissa Terry, a Stanly STEM science instructor, saying Terry “never failed to make us all feel valued and loved.”

Terry said she and her students “formed a bond” and that students “definitely kept me on my toes.” One of her favorite memories, she added, was the time she found poop emojis “on every surface possible” in her classroom.

“I hope you learned a little science, but I also hope you learned it’s OK to laugh at your mistakes,” Terry said.

She also advised graduates to “maintain homeostasis. Don’t overreact, you are always capable of finding the solution. Don’t be afraid to go against the concentration gradient. Don’t underestimate yourself. You are a powerhouse. You matter. Always give 100% unless it’s your blood. Stay in your lane. Failing is not in your DNA. You are one in 7.9 million. Your uniqueness is your strength. Be willing to adapt to the world around you. Everyone has a niche; find yours. The world desperately needs your help, humor, love and compassion. Go out and change the world.”

Dombrowski, along with Brian Bradshaw, Keith Livesay and Jonathan Davis, then presented diplomas to the graduates.