Person grads smile through the rain

Jun. 08, 2013 @ 06:43 PM

Under a steady downpour that sent the band running for cover just after finishing “The Star Spangled Banner,” more than 300 graduates of Person High School were urged to “be different” and to reach for their dreams.

“We know our parents love us because they’re still here,” said Kevin Johnson, student council president, referring to the packed crowd of umbrella-wielding friends and family who filled the Rockets’ football stadium Saturday morning for commencement exercises.

Johnson, in his welcome to the crowd and his fellow graduates, urged the Class of 2013 to go out into the world and “be different,” while quoting from the song from the popular rapper 2 Chainz, “I’m Different.”

“Be different. Be unique. Don’t be 2 Chainz, because that’s too different. But be yourself,” he said.

Class speakers were Richelle Turner, the duo of Holly Emmert and Kay Holler, and Martiez Bailey.

According to English teacher Phillip Gillis, an open call was made for any seniors who wished to give a commencement address. Those who signed up auditioned in front of a panel of teachers, including Gillis, who said the panel was looking for speakers who “weren’t generic, and had something specific” to offer to the class.

“Sometimes the best advice is not what we want to hear, it’s what we need to hear,” Turner said in her remarks to her classmates. “In taking the next steps in our life, it will definitely not be a stroll around the park. If anything, it will be a roller coaster of events.”

“We must all remember to believe in ourselves,” she urged. “… In the end, our brains are not the only thing that counts; it is going to be how hard we worked to reach our goals.”

Holler urged her classmates to “soak up this moment,” which elicited more than a few chuckles from the water-logged crowd.

In looking toward her classmates’ future, Emmert said,:“You have one thing no one else in this world has, and that is control of your life. You are the author of your own book. So write, build and live your life as only you can.”

Bailey shared with his classmates his dream of being an actor one day. He said he picked up a composition book one day and just started writing. Still, it took a while for him to find his voice, “but I found it.”

“I know your dream might not one day become a writer. … Whatever your dream is, just make sure … you do everything possible to make it come true,” he urged his classmates.

For Austin Morong, his dream already is coming true. The 17-year-old graduated early in January, then joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He left for basic training in Parris Island,  S.C,  in February, where he graduated in May, just in time to return to Roxboro to walk with the rest of the Class of 2013. He will leave for training at Camp Lejeune on Monday.

Morong said he is going to miss the friends and the fun times he had in high school, but he’s looking forward to “seeing the world and all the new experiences of the Marines.”

Principal Steve Hester, who will retire this summer, said the faculty had been watching the weather radar and decided to keep the graduation in the football stadium to allow for the maximum family participation. A lot more than just two people per graduate -- which would have been all that would be allowed to attend the ceremony in the school’s gym -- have contributed to these students’ success, he said.

Proud father Eric Propst, a Durham Fire Department captain, said the rain couldn’t put a damper on the experience of seeing his son Travis, who will be a freshman at N.C. State University in the fall, graduate.

“It was just a very proud moment in my life,” he said. “It was worth it.”