Taking the first step toward success
As the 15 December graduates from Lee Early College received their diplomas Thursday afternoon, they were reminded that this milestone was just the first step in a lifetime of living and learning.
And despite their small number, the graduates will be taking vastly different paths; some will stay in town to work at large manufacturing plants, and others will go to Central Carolina Community College or another two-year school in the area. At least one is joining the U.S. Army, and several are waiting to hear back from the various public and private four-year universities to which they've applied.
Brandy MacDonald, who graduated with both her high school diploma and an associate of arts degree from CCCC, was the class's designated speaker. Speaking to the alternative nature of the school, she remarked on how each student probably excelled more than he or she would have at one of the county's traditional high schools.
"I think I speak for everyone here when I say we came out in the end with more knowledge than we ever perceived to have in these short years of our academia — we had the opportunity that very few others have had," she said, later adding: "Each year, we armed ourselves with new ideologies to accomplish goals that we might have never realized would be within our grasp."
Before MacDonald took the mic, the students and dozens of their family members, friends and school staff heard from Carl Bryan, a teacher at The O'Neal School in Pinehurst who formerly worked at CCCC and was the first faculty member to start tutoring Lee Early College students.
Bryan evoked the image of anti-littering signs at the beach instructing beach-goers to "leave nothing but your footprints," which he said applies to their education and jobs, too.
"I want you to leave your footprints on whatever endeavors you do," he said. "... Leave things better than you find them."
MacDonald had similar advice for her classmates, saying that it's easiest for people to make an impact somewhere they enjoy being.
"Your future job does not define you as a person, but it does help others define you," she said. "Find a career that you will excel in because it brings you joy. Remember that you will make out far better if you are happy on the inside."
This was one of Lee Early College's first graduating classes since opening in 2006 and graduating its first students in May, 2011. The school, which is located on CCCC's Lee County campus, gives students the opportunity to earn an associate of arts, associate of science or applied associate of science degree in addition to a high school diploma from Lee County Schools.
All rising ninth-grade students can apply for the school, which accepts as many as 80 freshmen each year. And although anyone can apply, its target students are those who are less likely to attend college: minorities, students from low-income families and students whose parents never attended college.
Graduating with high school diplomas were Gabriela Andino, Miriam Arroyo, Darwin Guevara, Brandy Gulledge, Rachel Krieger, Timothy Myers, Christopher Petty, Joshua Reed, Selena Ryner and Yeneth Zetino. Graduating with high school diplomas and an associate's degree were Matthew Fish, Nikko Lairtoo, Brandy MacDonald, Jaren Shyers and Michael Stewart.