Today, The Daily Advance celebrates the Class of 2021 by profiling area high school seniors who demonstrated consistent academic excellence over four years by graduating at their top of their class.

The class valedictorians and salutatorians — the students with the highest and second-highest grade-point averages, respectively — at our area’s nine high schools were asked to share the most important thing they learned during their high school years, their favorite high school memory, and what they plan to do now that they’ve graduated. Their responses, organized by school, follow.

What’s the most important thing you think you learned from high school?

Camden County High School

Shane Nadj, Class of 2021 valedictorian: “How to be independent.”

Annaleigh Morgan, Class of 2021 salutatorian: “The most important thing I learned is how to think independently, even if my opinion is not the most popular one. I learned the importance of expressing this opinion.”

Camden Early College

Neil Bennett, Class of 2021 valedictorian: “I found that you really can’t know everything, but you can always keep learning. Being open-minded even in subjects I might not have originally found interesting got me quite far at CECHS (Camden Early College High School) and COA (College of The Albemarle). Heck, it led me to taking so many great classes in my senior year that I wouldn’t have known about if I wasn’t open-minded.”

Kaitlyn Mae Weddle, Class of 2021 salutatorian: ”If you want your dreams to come true all you need is hard work, dedication, and determination. With these three things, success is just around the corner no matter what path you choose.”

Northeastern High School

Myriam Musgrave, NHS Class of 2021 valedictorian: “I learned that hard work pays off! I know not to be discouraged when faced with difficulty, because I will ultimately benefit from it if I put in the work. When COVID came about I took the opportunity to load up on online college classes. It was very difficult for me but because I did so I was able to graduate with both my high school diploma and my associate of science (degree) from COA.

Michael Carter, NHS Class of 2021 salutatorian: ”That your knowledge and intelligence will only get you so far. Hard work and dedication is what will set you apart from others.”

Pasquotank County High School

Sophie Clarkson, PCHS Class of 2021 valedictorian: “The most important thing I learned from high school is that it isn’t the ‘Breakfast Club.’ You don’t have to fit into just one high school stereotype or any at all! You can be the jock and the nerd and the punk all at the same time.”

Abigail Oakes, PCHS Class of 2021 salutatorian: “The most important thing I learned from high school is to be open about trying new things and opportunities because the best forms of growth are change and failure.”

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Early College

Amari Seldon, ECP Class of 2021 valedictorian: ”The most important lesson I learned during high school is the significance of working on oneself. There are a variety of examples that I could pull from throughout these three years in which I, or a friend, had to balance personal issues with school work; however, I believe the greatest exemplar of such has been the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of the outbreak affected multiple facets of life, which, in turn, forced students to adapt in order to maintain their degree of academic success. Personally, there were times where I would become depressed and unmotivated to work, resulting in increased procrastination. But I continued to tell myself that the current hardships were for an express purpose, and that the stress and harrowing days would be worth it in the end. With that in mind, I believe that to truly achieve success, one must simultaneously work toward ones own happiness.”

Savannah Felton, ECP Class of 2021 salutatorian: “I think the most important thing that I learned in high school is to take everything day by day and do not let yourself get stressed out.”

Currituck County High School

Joanna Peyton Morris, CCHS Class of 2021 valedictorian: ”I feel like the most important thing I learned from high school is that your determination and work ethic are a lot more important than your natural talents or understanding. Throughout the many AP (advanced placement) courses I have taken at CCHS, I have found that the determination to do good and the effort put into studying and learning is what leads to success, not your natural ability to understand the topic or subject.”

Taylor McCarthy, CCHS Class of 2021 salutatorian: “The most important thing I learned from high school is to embrace every opportunity presented to you as there may not be there tomorrow, and that you will get more out of that opportunity than you ever would have thought before.”

JP Knapp Early College

Madison Sherman, Knapp Class of 2021 valedictorian: ”The most important thing that I learned from high school is that everyone takes different paths and that’s OK.”

Traecy Collier, Knapp Class of 2021 salutatorian: ”In my time in high school, the most important skill I have learned has been time management. I came in not knowing how to prioritize and after four years I have found out how to schedule, plan, and better prepare myself not only in school, but also in my outside life.”

Perquimans County High School

Belle Pierce, PCHS Class of 2021 valedictorian: ”The most important thing I learned from high school was to become an advocate for your journey: ask questions and find new resources. No one cares more about your education and future than you. Always remember: Destiny is reached by choice, not by chance.”

Maci Denson, PCHS Class of 2021 salutatorian: “In high school, the most important thing I learned was to not take anything for granted. These last four years have quickly passed and I realized that even if you don’t want to go to that class or that practice, you should because it’s gone in the blink of an eye. I have learned to cherish every moment!”

John A. Holmes High School

Makensey Faith Caroon, Class of 2021 valedictorian: “Remain true to yourself and values, no matter what others say.”

Abigail Faircloth, Holmes Class of 2021 salutatorian: “There are three main things that I learned from high school that I will carry with me throughout my life! These lessons include: Always march to the own beat of your drum; make every moment count; and stay humble and kind.”

What is your favorite memory of high school?

Camden County High School

Shane Nadj:”Taking math with Mrs. Ramsey and watching fishing videos with Aaron and Daniel in the Bruin Lab.”

Annaleigh Morgan: “My favorite memories of high school are the times I spent in drama club. We were able to perform several quality plays, having a lot of fun along the way.”

Camden Early College

Neil Bennett: “Well, there have been so many great memories at CECHS! I think one of my favorite memories was back in sophomore year, we were on our way back from the regional NCDOT Bridge Building Competition when we decided to take a pit stop at Sheetz. We were having a good time, and then as we were about to leave, the bus didn’t start. So we spent maybe another hour or two in the Sheetz parking lot enjoying ourselves to some fries and milkshakes, plotting to rent a U-Haul to get back to Camden. I never would have thought one of my best high school experiences would be stranded at a gas station parking lot, but it was pretty dang fun.”

Kaitlyn Mae Weddle: “My favorite memory in high school would have to be the senior parade. It was one of the first events that brought us back together since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Northeastern High School

Myriam Musgrave: ”I always enjoyed meeting for National Honor Society. Participating in campus cleanups with my friends was something I always looked forward to as well. Looking back, I am glad I was able to do something to help the school.”

Michael Carter: “My favorite high school memory was making it to the 2A regional championship for tennis, and getting to compete in the North Carolina 2A state tournament for tennis.”

Pasquotank County High School

Sophie Clarkson: ”I would have to say my favorite memory from high school is this one day in Mr. Cofield’s business law class. The entire class had finished (or was never planning on finishing) their work for the day and we were taking turns playing music. At one point we were all singing Movement by Hozier, a la ‘High School Musical,’ before Mr. Cofield asked us to please, PLEASE be quiet.”

Abigail Oakes: “My favorite memories stem from the beginning of my high school experience where I had the opportunity to go to school with my sister, Kaelyn, seeing as she was a senior when I was a freshman. However, one of my favorite memories with her was our last band competition at Cary Band Day when we had an all superior marching season.”


Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Early College

Amari Seldon: “My favorite memory of high school would have to be Battle of the Books 2019 with Mrs. Darnell. Not only did our team manage to do extremely well, we were also able to briefly visit the beach — something I would consider to be an absolute win.”

Savannah Felton: ”My favorite memory in high school would have to be sitting in the cafeteria playing Uno and laughing until we couldn’t breathe.”

Currituck County High School

Joanna Peyton Morris: ”One of my favorite memories of high school was the football games last year before COVID. The entire student section had themes on each game day and we would all come together to support the football team and have a good time.”

Taylor McCarthy: “My favorite high school memory was during my sophomore year when our volleyball team won the state championship. Our team had worked so hard all year and to fulfill our goal was the best feeling ever.

JP Knapp Early College

Madison Sherman: “My favorite memory from high school was the senior picnic because we all were finally able to be together in person. We all put our differences aside and just had a good time.”

Traecy Collier: ”My favorite memory is when we would all go to the beach after classes or hanging out at the skatepark after classes. We had never seen the personal side of people in our class until then, and that was a place where we would buy $7 pizzas and two liters to go and have a nice time with friends. The jokes, laughs, smiles, and memories from those times were unforgettable.”

Perquimans County High School

Belle Pierce: ”My favorite memory from high school was the big rival basketball games that I was able to be a part of. The feeling of playing big games such against Edenton and Camden are memories I will not soon forget.”

Maci Denson: “To limit it to one favorite moment is almost impossible, but my favorite memories were made on the volleyball court, surrounded by some of my best friends and our amazing coach. I will forever cherish all of my beautiful memories made on our volleyball court.”

John A. Holmes High School

Makensey Faith Caroon: ”My favorite high school memory is, having the amazing opportunity to attend the North Carolina School of Science and Math’s Summer Ventures at UNC- Wilmington to study forensic science for four weeks.”

Abigail Faircloth: ”My favorite memory of high school was when our football team beat Northeastern High School. I’ll never forget how hard we cheered, how much the fans got into it, and how amazing it felt when we all rushed the field. Everyone was screaming with joy, smiling, and celebrating. It looked straight out of a movie! It was moments like that one that I wish I could have one more of.”

What are your future plans?

Camden County High School

Shane Nadj: ”I’m going to UNC Chapel-Hill to study economics or business and possibly work in investment banking.”

Annaleigh Morgan: ”I will be attending NC State in the fall, where I will major in environmental science. After my undergraduate degree, I hope to go to law school where I will study to be an environmental attorney.”

Camden Early College

Neil Bennett: “I plan to go to NC State to major in software engineering.”

Kaitlyn Mae Weddle: ”I will be continuing my education at Liberty University. I hope to obtain my bachelor’s degree in graphic design so that I may eventually become a creative director.”

Northeastern High School

Myriam Musgrave: “I am going to attend Utah State University to study interior architecture and design. I hope to be able to design and repurpose older buildings in the future, focusing on sustainability.”

Michael Carter: “I plan on attending NC State in the fall, and majoring in horticulture. My career goals are to own and operate my own plant nursery business, much like the Manzers do at Northeastern.”

Pasquotank High School

Sophie Clarkson: This fall, I’ll be attending UNC-Chapel Hill and majoring in political science. After that? World domination.”

Abigail Oakes: “I will attend North Carolina State University in the fall to major in biological engineering with the hope of minoring in genetics. I would love to conduct genetic research to study the causes behind genetic mutations as a future career. I also would like to travel to Europe, especially Italy.”

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Early College

Amari Seldon: “After I finish my one summer class, I plan to move back to Waldorf, Maryland, and take a gap year. During this year, I plan to get a part-time job and try to receive an internship in psychology. As of now, I am not positive of which colleges I will be applying to.”

Savannah Felton: “In the fall I will be attending North Carolina State University, majoring in criminology. I plan to go to law school after graduation.”

Currituck County High School

Joanna Peyton Morris: I will be attending UNC-Chapel Hill where I will major in nursing with a minor in neuroscience. I hope to go on and complete my master’s degree and becoming a nurse anesthetist.”

Taylor McCarthy: “I will be attending the University of North Carolina in the fall in the honors program with a major in biology on the pre-med track. I plan to attend medical school and pursue a career as an anesthesiologist.”

JP Knapp Early College

Madison Sherman: “I am planning to attend North Carolina State University and major in human biology.”

Traecy Collier: “I am attending Texas A&M and plan on receiving a major in computer science and a minor in aerospace engineering. I am on an Air Force ROTC scholarship and will be commissioning into the Air Force as a pilot after graduation. I hope to fly F-22 Raptors.”

Perquimans County High School

Belle Pierce: “Upon graduation I will be attending Elizabeth City State University to study aviation science, the only four-year program in North Carolina. I plan to graduate from flight school and join the military as an officer. Only 5 percent of pilots are women and I look forward to bridging the aviation gap. My ultimate long-term goal is to become a commercial airline pilot.”

Maci Denson: “I will continue my education at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. There I was major in chemistry and pursue a pharmacy degree. After graduation, I plan to return to Hertford to work in our community.”

John A. Holmes High School

Makensey Faith Caroon: ”I plan to attend the University of Tampa to major in forensic science.”

Abigail Faircloth: ”I am attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall and majoring in nursing with a minor in creative writing. I plan on going to graduate school to obtain my nurse practitioner degree and licensing. I also plan on specializing in either neonatal care or pediatric oncology.”