Lee Early College grads challenged to make their mark

Majority of students earned both degree and diploma
May. 24, 2014 @ 05:03 AM

More than 20 high school seniors officially have a two-year head start on their peers, having graduated from Lee Early College with both a high school diploma and an associate's degree.

The school's graduation was Thursday night, and 22 of the 38 graduates of the alternative public high school with its campus at Central Carolina Community College walked across the stage as both high school and college graduates. The other 16 students have all taken at least some college classes as well — and on Thursday when their names and post-graduation plans were announced, many of them were said to be planning to continue their education rather than go straight into a job.

That dedication to learning, said Principal Robert Biehl, will take the graduates far. He said an appreciation for lifelong learning is the most important quality the school imparts to students, edging out other skills like tech knowledge, collaboration and communication to let them "stand up for what they believe in" when they reach the real world.

Student speaker Gloribel Vanegas talked not about academic skills, but the personal ones students had developed. She said she herself once made a huge mistake by letting someone else make an important decision for her — a decision that backfired, leading her grades and motivation to plummet.

"I came back strong and achieved my goals," said the student, who is now headed to Campbell University on a pre-med track, with more than $45,000 worth of scholarship funding. She told her fellow graduates what she'd learned from her own issues — "self-doubt will be the biggest obstacle you face," and to power through that doubt to reach their full potential.

"When you succeed, you lighten the burden of your neighbors," Vanegas said. "You're able to give rather than to take. This world would be a much better place if we all lived up to our potential."

Many of the graduates are well on the way to achieving what they're capable of, civics teacher Tonya Comeaux said in her own speech. They have been accepted to universities like N.C. State, UNC-Wilmington and Liberty. Others are going on to the military, a community college or the workforce.

And Comeaux asked them to not stop working to better themselves now, or whenever they achieve their next goals. She gave them one final assignment — "living a meaningful life" — and told them to explore the world and their own curiosity; to learn and to teach whenever possible; to have goals beyond the next paycheck.

"This is only a turn in the pathway you are to follow," she said. "... Don't live to work. Work to live."

Finally, she added, failure in this assignment is not an option. But she expressed faith in the graduates.

"Make a meaningful and lasting impression in this world," Comeaux said. "Make your mark."