Pasquotank graduation

Pasquotank County High School graduate Brianna Shante Billups holds her diploma high after receiving it from Principal Juvanda Crutch during the school’s commencement ceremony at the R.L. Vaughan Center, Friday.

Except for one small feature, Pasquotank County High School’s commencement ceremony Friday night was as traditional as any held prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Principal Juvanda Crutch made it clear at the outset of Friday’s ceremony in the R.L. Vaughan Center at Elizabeth City State University that everyone in the building was expected to wear a mask.

Speakers were allowed to remove their mask at the podium and the 150 graduates who received their diplomas were allowed to remove their face covering briefly for a photograph immediately after receiving their diploma.

For graduates like Breanna Morrison, Crutch’s mask-wearing requirement was a small concession to continuing safety concerns about the pandemic.

Morrison said PCHS seniors earlier in the year had expressed concerns their commencement would resemble the alternative commencement the Class of 2020 had last year. But as more and more COVID-related restrictions began to be lifted it became easier for the school to plan a full commencement, she said.

“I’m very glad for the traditional ceremony,” she said prior to the ceremony.

There was enormous applause as graduates entered the gym to “Pomp and Circumstance,” and it continued as Crutch arrived at the podium to begin the ceremony.

“You sound like you’ve been waiting for this,” Crutch said.

Crutch told the audience that statistics show 68 percent of Pasquotank High’s students are economically disadvantaged. But their status doesn’t have to stay that way, she said, noting students are graduating with the skills to help them get out of poverty.

She encouraged graduates to be grateful for the support they have received along the way from parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors. She thanked the school staff for their work.

Crutch cited the African “Ubuntu” philosophy, sometimes translated “I am because we are.” She said the school staff, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools Board of Education, ECPPS staff and community all understand “I am because we are.”

She noted that the owner of Eagle Mart had donated $5 gift cards to be distributed to all 2021 graduates of the district’s three high schools. The Biggs auto dealership also has been supportive every time they have been asked to do anything for the schools, she said.

Crutch challenged the graduates to take the philosophy into their own lives, remembering and caring for others.

Matthew Harrell, the male Pride of Pasquotank recipient, thanked Jesus, family and friends for support. He encouraged his fellow graduates to remember that God has a good plan for each of their lives.

Sarah Pureza, the female Pride of Pasquotank recipient, said all of the graduates have overcome difficulties during the past four years. They have become stronger and more confident, and through it all they have helped each other, she said.

Pureza plans to major in psychology at North Carolina State University. She said her favorite high school memory was senior night for the Lady Panthers soccer team.

Harrell plans to attend Elizabeth City State University and study exercise science. He recalled as his fondest memory of high school a soccer team victory over Northeastern during his sophomore year.

Graduate Jaylon Griffin said he plans to attend Pitt Community College and study marketing. He said he would like to start his own business, pointing to his mother, who is an entrepreneur, as his inspiration.

He said he definitely will remember the coronavirus when he thinks about his senior year. However, he’ll also recall that he worked hard and saw it pay off.

Morrison said she plans to go to work now and eventually attend college. “I want to figure out what I would like to do,” she said.

She said she enjoyed her time at Pasquotank High. “I think all the teachers are great,” Morrison said.

The Pasquotank High School Class of 2021 had a goal of $1.5 million scholarship money and as of Friday night had earned $1.496 million, Crutch said.

Interim Superintendent Rhonda James-Davis told graduates that they are beginning a new chapter in their lives.

“Be sure to write your new chapter well,” she said.

Board of Education Chairwoman Sharon Warden said it was great to hold Friday’s commencement in person. She urged the graduates to find something they enjoy doing.