ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond Senior High School class of 2016 walked the track at Raider Stadium Friday. It was the 44th class to do so since the school opened in 1972.
Under the glaring afternoon sun with temperatures soaring to near 90 degrees, students donning the green and gold gathered outside the stadium waiting for the ceremony to begin.
Davon Smith, 18, said he knows what he wants to do after graduation.
“I want to become a police officer,” he said. “I’m going to go to RCC, study criminal justice.”
Eighteen-year-old Brandy Aaronson also has her future planned.
“I’m going into the Marine Corps,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities for me. I’ve been in JROTC for three full years.”
Aaronson said she will be leaving for boot camp Sept. 5.
Asked how she felt about graduation, she said this night would be one to remember.
“It means everything,” she said. “We’ve come so far and we’re only just now beginning and we still have much more to go.”
Keira Hackley, a junior in full JROTC dress uniform, stopped for a quick comment before making formation.
“I’m just happy that I get to go out there and be part of graduation with the JROTC,” she said. “Hopefully the ninth-graders that are here now will be the ones doing this when I graduate.”
For teachers and other faculty, grad night marked the conclusion of another successful year of hard work.
Nikki Wells, a counselor at the high school, said she was a little more relaxed this year than last year.
“This is my second year,” she said. “I love it. I graduated here in 1997 and I played sports here and my brother graduated from here, so working with these kids is a different perspective coming back. But I love helping the kids. Most of their parents, I know them.
I’ve watched these children grow up and this is a big night for me and for them,” Wells continued. “So I’m a little more relaxed, but it’s just as emotional.”
Amanda Cipriani, also a counselor, said graduation is simultaneously a happy ending and a new beginning.
Retired Richmond County educator Don Smeigh stood alongside the track before the seniors stepped into view, a familiar face to countless students and families in the stands after years of service in the school district. He said being at graduation as a retiree is is a different experience.
“It’s a lot easier,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about who’s going where. I can just come and sit and enjoy.”
Smeigh said he would keep attending the yearly event until the last of the students he worked with graduated.
Principal Keith McKenzie gave last minute instructions to the seniors as they lined up behind junior marshals.
“No cell phones,” he said before they began the traditional march. “You are not allowed to wear anything on you except the National Honor Society, the Beta Club and the senate.
“That will be the only thing that’s allowed,” he continued. “You will not receive your diploma if you put on anything, add anything to your gown. If you are out there with your cell phone out, we will acknowledge it. You will not get your diploma tonight.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.