NOTTOWAY — Every graduating class, from pre-K to medical school, probably has its own unique set of challenges to overcome. For a couple of years now, graduating classes at Nottoway Senior High School have had the added burdened of winning their education in face of the worst pandemic in at least a century.
When one of those classes, the Nottoway class of 2023, showed up here on a bright late-spring morning last Saturday, June 3, there was a visible sense of overcoming adversity. The senior class president and top two graduates alluded to the hard passage. They rejoiced in the support they gave each other when they could not gather in COVID-shuttered classrooms. They praised their teachers and parents for standing strong for them. One of the student orators nearly choked up in recalling hard times that were overcome.
Near the end of the 45-minute ceremony, the articulate Dr. Tameshia Grimes, the county school superintendent, stepped forward to put a cap on the narrative of hard school days-overcome that punctuated this commencement.
She called the class “special,” quickly adding that she hopes no future class must endure what the class of 2023 endured. She spoke of the pride she and so many throughout the community and she feel for this group of youngsters whose diligence and determination proved inspiring to peers and elders alike.
The class, as is traditional for graduating Nottoway classes, marched from the school atop a small hill that faces the stadium below, shortly before the 10 a.m. hour scheduled for this commencement to begin.
Led by county school board members, school administrators, and faculty, the graduating seniors looked all bright and shiny dressed in gowns that reflected the school’s colors.
All the while, the school band, conducted by Katherine Lusk, played “Pomp and Circumstance” in the background.
The traditional processional was followed by a rousing edition of “National Anthem,” by the band.
The class marched beneath crossed swords held by cadets of the school’s NJROTC unit and took their seats facing a makeshift stage on which school board members and school administrators sat.
Darryl Sellars, the well-spoken senior class president, gave welcoming remarks.
He was followed by brief and inspirational remarks delivered by salutatorian Kylie Atkins and valedictorian Milton Martin.
A Senior Song, “Starship,” arranged by Tom Wallace, next was heard and was conducted by senior drum major Kamryn Hughes.
The bulk of the remainder of the ceremony represented the goal of every graduating senior this commencement day — the traditional walk up, across, and down the stage after receiving the coveted diploma that literally was the result of years of toil and sweat, and, in many cases, sacrifice not just for the students but also for their parents, other relatives, community members, and faculty. And in the case of this class, tha achievement was won in face of one of the nation’s most difficult and deadly episodes that took the lives of vast numbers of souls.
Nottoway Principal Reginald Wilson, Assistant Principal Amanda Paynter, and Athletic Director Peter Jones awarded a diploma to each graduate, who then received well wishes from school board members gathered on stage.
Every graduate was escorted by an NJROTC cadet during the passage up and down the stage.
After each graduate had been awarded their diploma, a slight hush fell across the gathering. Dr. Grimes stepped forward. She asked the seniors to rise. She then asked Principal Wilson if they had earned the credentials to be recognized as graduates of the school. He answered in a firm affirmative voice that they had.
At that point, Dr. Grimes pronounced the class, this special, pandemic-hardened cohort, graduates of Nottoway Senior High School.
As the school band played “Dream On,” the seniors, led by their elders, marched happily out of the stadium to be met by hugs, kisses, and congratulatory expressions by relatives and friends. They would soon begin the next chapter in their young lives.