Aces' Class of 2017 are now the 'big kids'

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Aces' Matt Benfield high-fives John A. Holmes' Principal Steve Wood as he accepts his diploma during Thursday's commencement ceremony.

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Chowan Herald

Saturday, June 17, 2017

EDENTON – Though John A. Holmes Principal Steve Wood is a strong man not inclined toward emotional displays, there was a slight crack in his voice moments before the Aces' Class of 2017 marched onto the football field Thursday evening for the commencement ceremony.

“This was a great class – lot of accomplishments,” Wood said as he patted down his ceremonial black robe that was highlighted by a light blue academia regalia.

Moments later, Wood would be behind a podium addressing a large crowd filled with parents, friends, faculty and students who've left a mark on the place that would become their alma mater. He began his speech by asking the seniors to remember the people who have supported this class.

“Class of 2017, I want you to look at all the people here tonight one good time to remember to thank them for all that they have done in your in life to get you to this lifetime milestone,” he said. “Class of 2017, trust me when I say that 'It takes a village to raise a child.' It literally took all these people to get you here tonight.”

Wood offered a formidable list of accomplishments that include a state title in baseball and academic honors. Of the 130 seniors receiving their diploma, 42 members of the Class of 2017 are honor graduates and 13 are Holmes Scholars. Forty-seven percent of the graduates will be attending a 4-year college, while 38 percent will attend a community college and 3 percent will join the military with the remaining 12 percent to join the workforce. This high achieving class earned more than $2.7 million in scholarships. JAH' athletic department had six teams represented in the state championship for their sport.

A country music fan, Wood finished his speech with a few words of wisdom from Tim McGraw. Then, with a slight pause filled with emotion, Wood said to the Class of 2017, “I love you and God speed.” A crowd let out a cheer that filled the bleachers on both sides of the field.

Freya Kelsey wore her blue graduation robe filled with academic regalia befitting her achievements as valedictorian when she spoke of being a “big kid” after graduation.

“You are now the big kids,” she said. “You are the role models for the next batch of young Aces. Now, you have to decide who your new role models will be. Some of you will be looking up to doctors, leaders, employees of the year, lawyers, activists, politicians, farmers managers, programmers and scientists. Through looking up to them, what impressive feats will you achieve. What lives will you touch? Who will you inspire? Who will you become at your next milestone? I can't wait to find out!”

Salutatorian Colette Gummere offered a quote from philosopher Confucius during her speech.

“Ancient Chinese Philosopher Confucius once said, 'By three methods we may learn wisdom. First, by reflection, which is the noblest. Second by imitation, which is the easiest and third by experience which is the bitterest,'” she said.

Gummere said she learned a lot from her time at JAH..

“Upon reflection, imitation and experience of high school, I am able to conclude that John A. Holmes is one of the many stepping stones in my life,” she said. “I have learned a lot from the wonderful teachers and I have experienced a plethora of hardships. However, for me and you, I believe that the best years are to still to come. We have our whole lives before us. Life shouldn't be a downfall after high school. We all had knowledge that has evolved into wisdom. Thank you John A. Holmes for these memories and the life lessons. Congratulations class of 2017. You have earned it.”

Seniors like Khalil Blount, Whitney Cranford and Luke Hoggard smiled as they clapped at the end of Kelsey' and Gummere's speeches.

Perhaps as bookends to a student's path through Edenton-Chowan Schools, the JAH choir was joined by students from White Oak Elementary to perform “You're with me everywhere.”

Classmates cheered as diplomas were handed to 130 seniors who walked with pride across the stage.

Tassels were turned and there was a fireworks barrage that celebrated these Aces' accomplishments.

The last word goes back to country music star Tim McGraw from Wood's speech.

“When the dreams you're dreaming come to you; When the work you put in is realized; Let yourself feel the pride, but always stay humble and kind. Don't expect a free ride from no one. Don't hold a grudge or a chip and here's why: Bitterness keeps you from flyin'. Always stay humble and kind.”