[Photo: SandHoke graduates toss their caps during the ceremony at Raz Autry Stadium.]
By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • “One, two…two and a half…two and three quarters…”
Principal Colleen Pegram-Wike drew out the countdown, giving the SandHoke Early College High School Class of 2021 a few more seconds to get ready to savor the last of their high school days.
But just as their years at SandHoke eventually had to end, so did the countdown, and with cheers and applause from their families the new graduates flung their graduation caps into the air in celebration.
SandHoke Early College held its graduation ceremony Friday at Raz Autry Stadium on the Hoke High campus, with loved ones looking on from the stands.
Sergio Estrada-Adan, SandHoke Early College Graduate of the Year, praised his classmates for their hard work.
“I am proud of all of my peers and I for being at this point in our lives,” he said. “It really is an amazing accomplishment to stand here at the end of our senior year, graduate high school, and take the next steps toward our futures.”
Kai Harris addressed the class, and told his fellow graduates to congratulate themselves on making it through the last four – and in some cases, five years of education.
“There have been many twists and turns in the world during our time here in SandHoke, and yet you’ve all endured,” he said.
The challenges don’t end with graduation, and in the newfound freedom, it might be easy to slip into confusion, frustration or anxiety, Harris noted.
“Now is the time to discover what it is we value, be it intimacy, creativity, understanding, freedom, belonging, or any of the other numerous joys of life,” he said.
Nichole Daniels offered a walk down memory lane with her classmates, recalling the years of study and hard work it took them to get there.
“Four years ago we were receiving our acceptance letters to SandHoke. Then there was a three-day orientation when we got to see who we were going to spend the next four years of our lives with. Then came August and we were freshmen,” she said. “Now within the blink of an eye, this is our last day as high school students.”
From fond memories of special teachers to the fear of realizing they had forgotten to wear their student I.D., the shared experiences united the SandHoke Class of 2021.
“We’ll all miss being around our friends every day, seeing our favorite teachers, playing our games during lunch and laughing during class,” Daniels said.
The graduate touched on what it was like for the SandHoke class to deal with their senior year being disrupted by COVID-19.
“Going into senior year in the midst of a pandemic has been hard. Our senior year is supposed to be our most important year of high school, and yet we have missed so much,” Daniels said. “Although we have missed out on a lot, we are all here which is what matters in the end.”
Speaker Kendall Reutimann offered remarks to the graduates, and recalled what it took to make it to their graduation day.
“Although this last year or so has been difficult, we manage to pull through and here we are, everyone. We did it,” he said. “I remember walking around on the first day of freshman seminar and just wishing I had gone to Hoke High. Which is pretty funny because here we are. I’m sure we all had this same thought throughout our time here at SandHoke. But the thing is, I wouldn’t change a thing about the last five years, and I’m sure a lot of you would agree.”
“Although SandHoke gave us grueling work to do and a lot of us had many, many sleepless nights while annotating books or just having a breakdown over not knowing what to do, the experiences and relationships we have built here are some of the best I’ve ever known.”
Graduates Skye Hammond and Dominick Carrigan recognized special guests including the Hoke County Board of Education, Sandhills Community College, and their teachers and families. Carrigan offered a tribute to the late Wyatt and Mary Upchurch.
“Mr. and Mrs. Upchurch were both strong community supporters of Sandhills Community College Hoke Campus and SandHoke. Mr. and Mrs. Upchurch are no longer with us, but their spirit is still part of Sandhills and SandHoke,” he said. The ceremony held a moment of silence for the Upchurches.
The walk across the stage included an announcement of each graduate’s accomplishments, and their plans for the future. Some students left SandHoke with a high school diploma, others departed with anywhere from a handful to over 60 college credit hours to their name, and a number earned associate’s degrees along with their diploma. The classmates have big plans for their future: many announced intentions to join the United States Military, enter the workforce, or pursue higher education. SandHoke graduates will matriculate to East Carolina University, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Pembroke, Duke University, Sandhills Community College, North Carolina A&T, N.C. State, and many other colleges and universities in and outside of the state.
[Note: This version of the story contains corrected names that were misspelled in the print edition. We apologize for the error.]