209 grads turn tassels in Currituck

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Members of Currituck County High School's Class of 2018 march onto the school's football field during the start of their graduation ceremony, Friday.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, June 10, 2018

CURRITUCK — There were a lot of cheers at Friday’s commencement ceremony at Currituck County High School, but probably none louder than that for the school’s former principal when she accepted the diploma for senior Jonathan Gillette.

Gillette, who was badly injured in a vehicle accident in Lower Currituck in February, couldn’t attend Friday’s commencement because he’s still undergoing treatment at the Shepherd Center, a neurological and neuromuscular facility in Atlanta. So in his place, Renee Dowdy, a former Currituck High School principal who is now an assistant superintendent, accepted it on his behalf.

Dowdy received thunderous applause when she held Gillette’s diploma aloft. 

Madison Davis, a Currituck senior also injured in the same vehicle accident, was also cheered when she walked to the stage to receive her diploma. 

In all, 209 seniors received their diplomas during Friday evening’s ceremony on the school’s athletic field. 

Also receiving a lot of cheers at Friday’s commencement was Juvanda Crutch, Dowdy’s successor as Currituck High School principal.

Crutch told graduates she had been very anxious about addressing them. Although she had been an assistant principal, Crutch has only been principal at the high school less than 6½ months. Crutch also told graduates she worried that because she didn’t grow up in Currituck, some of them might not be able to relate to her.

“I allowed fear to seep in,” Crutch said. “I focused on what I considered to be all my weaknesses, instead of focusing on my strengths. I compared myself to Mrs. Dowdy, instead of comparing myself to a better version of myself.”

Crutch said she found the words she wanted to deliver to students from Marianne Williamson’s poem, “Our Deepest Fear.” In that poem, Williamson says “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

Crutch encouraged graduates to be powerful beyond measure. “Let your light shine and, most importantly, give others permission to do the same,” she said.

The ceremony’s featured speaker, Donnie Simpson, a former Currituck educator and coach, told graduates a humorous story about his induction ceremony into the N.C. High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in Chapel Hill. Simpson said he didn’t show up for the event with the right clothing and, as a result, ended up having to borrow a pair of black women’s pants from his hotel and pin them up with safety pins so they’d fit. He said when he later admitted to the induction ceremony crowd why his clothing looked so funny, the story brought the house down with laughter.   

“They call it the wardrobe malfunction of Chapel Hill,” Simpson chuckled.

Simpson said he told the story to emphasize to graduates that they will a lot of mistakes in life, but the key is to learn from them and keep moving.

“When you face adversity out there — and you will — don’t quit,” Simpson said.

Also addressing Currituck graduates Friday evening were the Class of 2018’s top graduates, valedictorian Marlee Walls and salutatorian Jenna Akers.

Walls, who plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall, told graduates their lives will be an ongoing test. While the test won’t be easy, Currituck graduates have been given the tools they need to become active citizens capable of positive contributions to society, she said.

Walls also advised fellow graduates not to fall into apathy, but to meet their abundance of potential and leave a mark on the world.

Akers, who also plans to attend UNC-CH in the fall, told graduates that hard work and success go hand-in-hand. At the same time, she urged graduates to hit the “pause button” and enjoy the current moment. She also urged graduates to be kind to others.

In an interview before the ceremony, Walls said she was proud to be named her class’s valedictorian.

“I feel like everything that I’ve worked on is just the cherry on top of the cake,” Walls said.

She’s considering considering studying either computer science or biomedical engineering in Chapel Hill.

“I really hope to work at some sort of big corporation where I know I can make a difference. I just want to be able to help people and be happy in whatever I do,” she said.

Akers said she was both excited and nervous when she found out she had been named salutatorian.

“It shows that all the hard work pays off,” Akers said.

Akers said she intends to study peace, war and defense, as well as Arabic, at Chapel Hill.

“I’ve always had a love for government,” she said.

Akers wants to work for either the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department or the State Department. Her ultimate dream, however, is to run for president, she said.

Other Currituck graduates also have lofty goals after graduation.

Chas Connors, 17, said he’s headed to East Carolina University where he plans to major in biology. Having a passion for dentistry since he was a kid, he said his goal is attend dental school.

“I just want to help other people smile,” Connors said. “I feel like a great smile is the first thing somebody looks at when they look at you.”

Tiffany Lindsey, 17, is headed to College of The Albemarle where she hopes to start her education. Her goal is to get accepted into law school and eventually work as an environmental attorney.

Describing herself as “an outdoorsy person,” Lindsey said she’s grown to realize the environment isn’t being protected as it should be.

“So, I kind of took it upon myself to try to make a difference for that,” she said.