[Photo: Lauron Lewis as Regena McLaughlin Fixes her cap (Photo by Meredith Bounds, Hoke County Schools)]
By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • “It’s time to let your Buck pride shine,” Hoke High Interim Principal Sabrina Finkbeiner told the Class of 2021, as they gathered one last time Saturday to mark the end of their four years together.
Raz Autry Stadium was overflowing as hundreds of parents, family members and friends gathered to see off the latest Bucks grads in style, after a difficult senior year due to the pandemic.
Assistant principal Joshua Williams offered words of encouragement as students processed into the stadium for the graduation.
“Congratulations to all the graduates today. You guys made it! You made it through a very challenging year and I’m very proud of you all. Remember to continue to work on your goals and dreams every day and know that the sky’s the limit,” he said.
Finkbeiner praised the students for making the most of their senior year.
“As each of you has a unique path that you are about to travel on, we want you to know that the doors of Hoke County High School will always be open for support, guidance and to celebrate your successes. As soon to be alumni of the Class of 2021, we congratulate you for using technology in an innovate manner and taking each learning experience, COVID-19 approved activity and sporting event as an opportunity to make a difference in our Hoke County community,” Finkbeiner said in remarks.
Emily Grace Shoemaker, salutatorian for the Bucks Class of 2021, also touched on how the pandemic affected the graduates since it shut classrooms in the spring of their junior year.
“The last two years have been anything but normal. We are presented with challenges most others before us have not had to endure; yet we persevered. That is a major accomplishment for which we all should be especially proud,” she said.
Graduation marked both an end and a new beginning, Shoemaker said.
“If you find an opportunity does not come knocking, take charge and build a door,” she said in closing.
Shoemaker will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she will double major in biostatistics and clinical laboratory sciences. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health and become an infectious disease specialist.
This year the high school celebrated co-valedictorians. Graduating seniors Moayad Raed Albayyari and Andres Alexis Mejia-Pena tied for top honors with the highest GPA in the class. Each offered remarks to their classmates during the ceremony.
Albayyari is the recipient of the Goodnight Scholarship, a full merit-based scholarship to attend North Carolina State University, where he plans to double major in computer science and computer engineering. He hopes to participate in a five-year master’s degree program, and his goal after pursuing higher education is to become a software engineer.
Albayyari took the opportunity to thank his teachers, friends and especially his family for their support.
“They are remarkable people that have set me up with a path to success provided with unconditional love, support, and have instilled me with a work ethic that’s allowed me to pursue every goal I’ve ever had,” he said.
“High school has been an interesting journey to say the least for me as I’m sure it’s been for all of us. When I decided in the seventh grade at my sister’s high school graduation I was going to be valedictorian because they gave a cool speech, I really didn’t know what I was going to be going into.”
At one point Albayyari thought he was going to drop out and have his own food truck business, but ended up sticking with school.
“I guess being an engineer is cool too,” he joked.
“When they tell you it only takes one person believing in you to make a difference, it’s true, but that person has to be you.”
Albayyari also took a moment in the speech to call attention to Palestinians’ struggles; his family came to the United States from Palestine, he said.
Fellow co-valedictorian Mejia-Pena plans to attend North Carolina State University where he will pursue a degree in electrical engineering with a concentration in renewable energy. He then hopes to pursue a master’s degree in power systems, with the goal of becoming a power engineer.
Mejia-Pena said that the journey to becoming valedictorian was more special to him than the actual title.
“I’d like to say when I entered high school. I was a very different person. Four years ago I was a little naïve, but I had a goal in mind, and that goal was to become the top of my class. I’m proud to say I did it. Now that I’m here it’s a little anticlimactic,” he said in his speech. “I appreciated the journey way more than actually obtaining the title. However, I’m glad to say I don’t regret it.”
“I learned the importance of mental health. For example, I learned the importance of sleep, time management, and a support system, because without those things I wouldn’t have made it. And I want to dedicate this speech to thanking my support system.”
The co-valedictorian thanked his family for imparting a love of mathematics and science.
“Some of that passion rubbed off on me and I’m happy to say that,” he said.
The Hoke County High School JROTC posted the colors. Senior Class President Jordyn Michelle Rush offered farewell remarks, and Senior Class Vice President Jocelyn Chania Ray led the turning of the tassels. Superintendent Dr. Debra Dowless, and Board of Education members Della Maynor, Keisha Gill, vice chairwoman Barbara Buie and chairwoman Rosa McAllister-McRae took part in introducing the students.