19 earn diplomas at Camden Early College

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Annabelle Andrews, salutatorian of Camden Early College's graduating class, has her 18 classmates join her on stage during the school's commencement ceremony at College of The Albemarle's Performing Arts Center, Saturday.


By Kesha Williams

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Camden Early College is not a traditional high school, so it was probably fitting that the graduation speech by the school’s salutatorian on Saturday didn’t follow tradition.

Annabelle An­drews didn’t give a tra­di­tional speech to her fel­low grad­u­ates at Cam­den Early Col­lege’s commencement cer­e­mony at Col­lege of The Albe­marle’s Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter. She in­stead called her 18 class­mates up to the stage.

A bit surprised, but cheerful to respond, they all rose from their seats on the front row of the auditorium, and formed two lines beside the podium.

Through tears, Andrews then spoke to them from the heart, urging her fellow graduates to face the future courageously.

“I believe in you guys so much,” she said. “In the future, don’t accept failure. I know we’ve had each other and our teachers a long time but you can do this on your own. Learn to be alone. You can earn a degree on your own.

“Know your worth,” she continued. “Love yourself. You have the power to do anything you want. Just be yourself.”

Passing out diplomas to the graduates on Saturday was Early College Principal Amber Davis.

Because early college students can take college courses at COA, nine of the school’s graduates have already earned either an associate degree or career credentials.

Caleb Forbes, a 17-year-old, is one such graduate. He’s already preparing to move to Greenville where he will study engineering at East Carolina University. He said he’s confident the early college program has given him a winning strategy for the future.

“I began researching the early college program in middle school,” he said. “It was one-on-one instruction and project-based. I thought that was a good program based on what I want to study in college. I have been interested in engineering since I was young.

“It (early college) is a good deal both ways,” Forbes continued. “If you go to early college, you knock out high school classes and some college classes. Most of the time I was around other students not enrolled in early college while playing soccer.”

Jacqueline Leary is another 17-year-old who marched off stage Saturday relieved she’d completed the early college program.

“I really like the early college program and I think middle school students should begin considering it,” she said. “It was challenging but with support from friends and family, it’s doable.”

Leary, the daughter of a retired Coast Guardsman and the sister of one brother in Navy and another in the Marines, said she, too, plans to join the military. 

“It felt so good graduating today, knowing I am my parents’ last child. Now they are done, and I am headed to the Navy,” she said. “I will miss the scenery here, so many farms, open fields, beaches especially the Outer Banks nearby but you have to follow your heart.”

Michael Reaves, a Camden High School staff member currently on leave from the school while completing his master’s degree at ECU, was the ceremony’s keynote speaker. He urged graduates to soak in the joy of the day. Saturday, he noted, will be one of many special moments in their lives. He warned them to expect to make mistakes in the future but to understand risk-taking is a part of life.

“I am here to tell you, to take the risk, you are smart enough, you are good enough. If you are willing to put in the hard work, it will work out. Don’t sell yourself short or accept less than your very best in everything you do every day,” Reaves said.

He also warned students not to get distracted by people who will tell them that risk-takers don’t get ahead. Those people will play on your fears and try to project their fears on you, he said. Reaves told graduates to be confident in their abilities and not allow others to set limits on what they can accomplish.

“Set big goals, create a plan to reach your goals and stay focused on what’s most important. Learn from your mistakes and don’t make the mistake of allowing fear to make decisions for you,” Reaves said.