ROCKINGHAM — Ashley Chapel Educational Center celebrated its 2016 graduates Thursday evening with a commencement ceremony in the Kate Finley Auditorium at Rockingham Middle School.
For 18-year-old August Marie Smith, the achievement represented two turning points in her life.
“I was having to deal with my grandpa’s death,” she said. “And he was the only one who pushed me to graduate. He drove me to school every day. When he died March 15, that was something I was dealing with for the rest of the year. But I knew he was with me and I know he’ll be proud of me today.”
Smith said that she was also able to complete some of her college courses while attending Ashley Chapel.
“Someone from Richmond Community College came out there to our school every day,” she said. “Now I’m going to go back to RCC to do my CNA 1 and CNA 2. I’d like to work at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital once I’m finished. For anyone going through a challenging time, I would tell them to keep going and to do it for yourself and be proud.”
Assistant Principal William Kelley described the graduates as “a small group that has a lot of potential, as long as they don’t lose their focus.”
When the 32 graduates garbed in royal blue caps and gowns with gold tassels went up on stage one by one to receive their diplomas, friends and family who packed the auditorium seats cheered them on.
Richmond County Board of Education Vice Chairman Bobby Sue Ormsby said there is no dream too great for those who keep trying.
“I hope they live their dreams,” she said. “I hope they have a plan for the future and that they fulfill that plan and never give up. I am very proud of them. It’s a new beginning for a new phase in their lives.”
Board member Dr. Irene Aiken agreed that having a dream and determination are key to moving through the steps and stages of life.
“I think they can do what they put their minds to and what they are willing to do,” she said. “They can accomplish what they want to accomplish. It’s just like me recently, getting my online teaching certification. I’ve been teaching school online for years, but I wanted to set an example, so I decided to go on and be the first to be certified. People ask me how I do it, and I say, ‘I just do it.’ Just do it. It’s the old Nike slogan, but it’s also my philosophy. Just do it.”
Principal Susan Brigman gave a motivational speech to the graduating class.
“After tonight I will not be there right beside you encouraging you to make the right choices,” she said. “Unfortunately we do live in a society that in many ways is broken. And there are lots of real reasons to be frustrated about the world you live in. It is easy to complain, and it is easy to lose hope.
“For many of you your past dreams were taken from you because of bad choices and mistakes,” she continued. “But you do not have to let your past define who you are today. Now is the time to dream new dreams. Don’t be afraid of doing something new or different. You have the power to change the world you live in and make it a better place.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.