Cheers, happy tears at Hoke High Bucks graduation

Cheers, happy tears at Hoke High Bucks graduation

[Photo: Students walk into the stadium at Hoke High for the 2024 commencement ceremony. Photo by Carrie Palm, see more graduation photos in this week’s issue of The News-Journal, available in stores around the county.)

By Catharin Shepard • Editor • The Hoke High Class of 2024 began their high school experience with the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, and ended it last Friday with reflections, gratitude and hope for the future.

“I’d like to personally say to the class of 2024, thank you for accepting all of the challenges that you have faced during your time at Hoke High School. COVID and the transition back to normalcy was very challenging,” Hoke High Principal Dr. Thomas Benson III said in remarks at the graduation ceremony. “You all have contributed to the Hoke High brand through your academics, your athletics and your commitment to serving the community in a positive way.”

Hundreds of Hoke High seniors crossed the stage at Raz Autry Stadium May 31, 2024 to receive their diploma.


The theme for this school year was “changing the brand through accountability,” Benson said.

“Our seniors have modeled high expectations for themselves through the commitment to graduate. Being accountable for their decisions and actions, creating positive relationships with those they value and respect, and finally, pursuing their education with passion and enthusiasm.”

Benson dedicated a poem by Tupac Shakur, “The Rose That Grew From Concrete,” to the Class of 2024.

“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete, proving nature’s law is wrong. It learned to walk without having feet. Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared,” the principal quoted. “So, parents, look at your beautiful rose.”

“As you transition from high school student to graduate, be proud of your accomplishments and celebrate this momentous time in your life. Challenge yourself to be better and make those around you better.”

The principal also congratulated four seniors who graduated with both an associate’s degree and a high school diploma. He offered words of advice on future success to the graduating seniors.

“Parents, on behalf of Hoke High administration, we would like to thank you for the opportunity of working with your student, and we ask that you continue to support Hoke High School. Buck pride forever,” Benson said.

Hoke County High School Salutatorian for the Class of 2024 is Patience Carpenter, the daughter of Mandy Carpenter and the granddaughter of Ed and Edna Carpenter. She earned a weighted GPA of 4.554. She was active in high school participating in drama club, Beta club and the National Honor Society. She earned an associate’s degree from Sandhills Community College, and this fall will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she plans to major in exercise science. After obtaining her undergraduate degree, she plans on pursuing a master’s degree in physical therapy, and would eventually like to open her own physical therapy facility in Hoke County. Her mantra is, “Nobody but God.”

In remarks, Carpenter said she was proud of each and every one of her classmates.

“Class of 2024, we are the face of a lot of lost and stolen amenities. Eighth grade graduation, stolen youth due to COVID, and the loss of a normal high school experience our freshmen year. However, through the battle of adversity and strife, we persevered,” she said.

Carpenter said her classmates are “a gifted generation that is going to change the world.”

“I see future nurses, future doctors, future police and firefighters, future HVAC technicians and plumbers, future athletes, future entertainers, future engineers, future military personal, future artists, future teachers, and furthermore, I see future adults who are bound to make change in a world that is forever growing, and once again, I could not be more proud,” Carpenter said. “I’m ecstatic to see where your future takes you. You will all go very far, and no matter what path, know at one point, we all had Hoke County High School.”

Carpenter said she didn’t have any regrets, and knew what legacy she wanted to make in her high school years.

“As Taylor would say – yes, those of you who know me know I cannot go without quoting one of the most influential people, Taylor Swift – Taylor says, the scary news is, you’re on your own now, but the cool news is, you’re on your own now.”

Hoke County High School Valedictorian for the Class of 2024 is Emily Mejia-Pena, the daughter of Jose Mejia and Claudia Pena. She earned a weighted GPA of 4.619. She was very active in high school, playing volleyball and remaining active in student government and HOSA. She earned an associate’s degree from Sandhills Community College. In the fall, she plans on attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she will major in nursing. Her ultimate goal is to become a doctor. Her philosophy is, “be the best at everything you do.”

Mejia-Pena spoke about what she learned during her high school journey.

“I’d be lying if I said it was easy, but all the extra classes and late nights doing homework were definitely worth it. I proved to myself that if I wanted something and worked towards it, I could do it,” she said. “All the while, I still enjoyed myself, laughing with friends, spending time with family and doing things I love. Those small moments in life are the most important when you are pursuing something, they help keep you focused and motivated.”

It’s important to keep a balance and not lose focus when chasing a goal, especially if it’s a big goal, she said.

“To my fellow graduates, we’ve had our fair share of challenges, like freshman year when we would all fall asleep on Zoom…however, what we should look back on are the good times and the memories,” Meija-Pena said.

“Through it all, we learned some valuable lessons. We learned that hard work and dedication go a long way, the importance of responsibility and accountability, and to adapt to our surroundings,” she said.

The valedictorian thanked God, her family, the school teachers and staff and her friends.

“As we close this chapter and move forward into our next journey, remember to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, because you never know what doors it will open,” she said.

The ceremony included a moment of silence for a student, Keyon Lamar Reaves, who lost his life before he could graduate with the Class of 2024. A table display included a photo of Reaves along with graduation regalia, donated by Jostens, in his honor. His family had special seating to attend the ceremony, “and we will continue to pray for them,” Benson said.

Organizing the graduation was a challenge due to the parking situation on the school campus, which was affected by construction of the new $78 million high school building.

“But we wanted to make this right for our class that’s graduating,” the principal said.

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