WORTON — The air in Trojan Arena at Kent County High School was hot but spirits were high as people packed the bleachers, awaiting the first notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” and the steady procession of the 133 seniors ready for graduation.

On Saturday morning, June 1, KCHS held its 48th annual commencement exercises. Principal Nick Keckley greeted the graduates and cited a “deep sense of accomplishment” not only for students but also for their parents and guardians, whom he thanked for their support throughout their children’s schooling.

Keckley listed the Class of 2019’s varied accomplishments. This year, 79 seniors are dual completers, meaning they have satisfied college and career readiness standards. Students also completed 165 AP courses. Of the 133 seniors, 75% will be attending a two- or four-year colleges or technical schools, 20% will be entering directly into the work force and 5% will be enlisting in the military.

Senior class treasurer Taiyana Goldsborough was the mistress of ceremony and class historian Grace Boege, who also serves as the student member of the Kent County Board of Education, introduced the platform guests. They including the Board of Education, guest speaker Kyle Hackett, Superintendent Karen Couch, KCHS administration and the student representatives. Class president Nolan Lindsay, salutatorian Olivia Coleman and valedictorian Paulina Panas all gave remarks.

Class secretary Elizabeth Goetz introduced Hackett, a 2007 KCHS grad from Still Pond who is now a visual artist and a lecturer in studio art at American University. His Kent County roots and his alumnus status allowed him to connect with the graduates and offer advice.

“I am one of you,” he said. “Your time is now.”

Hackett told graduates to discover their “driving force,” which he said would guide them toward their greater purpose. He said that right now, it’s OK for students not to know what to do with their lives, but “your presence today is proof that you’re prepared.”

He spoke of the power of education and perseverance and encouraged graduates to embrace their fear of the unknown. Hackett told the class not to suppress their individuality. He cited his own struggles, like his childhood home being foreclosed on after he graduated college and his efforts to be accepted into graduate school, as a testament.

Hackett reminded students that there is no struggle without meaning.

“Progress is not a straight line,” he said. “Success means perseverance.”

Ultimately, Hackett said, time will pass and life will move along, but “your body of work is never fully complete.” He encouraged the Class of 2019 to keep discovering their passion and to take ownership of their own process towards success.

“Kent County has fostered world-class talent, and the world needs you now more than ever,” Hackett said.

Class president Nolan Lindsay, clad in blue and yellow Crocs, KCHS’ school colors, had some different insights into the world after high school.

“Congratulations Class of 2019, you’re not special,” he began. Lindsay said that with 7.5 billion other people in the world, to be the best at something would be near impossible.

“While I don’t know about you, I do not plan to compete with 7.5 billion people. I will not strive to be the best at anything except for the best me I can be,” he said.

He spoke about the pressure on people to achieve excellence, which he took issue with.“I believe those who only look into the future are certain to miss the present,” he said. “Today marks a new beginning to all our lives, and as you move onto this new beginning I urge you to do whatever you do purely because you love it and truly believe in its importance.”

Lindsay will be studying history at the University of Minnesota in the fall.Valedictorian Paulina Panas, who will be attending UCLA in the fall to study film, highlighted the community and camaraderie she experienced in Kent County Public Schools.

“Our homes may change, but our hometown never will. The high school we graduated from will never change, and neither will the memories we made here,” she said.

She said there has always been a dichotomy between people who want to stay in Kent County after high school and those who want to break out.

“Just this past year it’s hit me how lucky we are to have grown up here, in such a small, tight-knit community,” Panas said. “What I learned is that instead of keeping us from new experiences like I used to think, being in a small school expands our view in a way. Since there are so few of us, it gives us opportunities.”

Panas said KCPS also forced her outside her comfort zone to make friends with people she normally would not have talked to had she attended a larger school.

“Over my 12 years in KCPS, I’ve become friends with people so different from me, I’d probably have never interacted with them at a school like Queen Anne’s. I’ve learned to look beyond political views and economic standing, and truly just know someone for who they are,” she said.

At the end of her speech, Panas thanked her class and reminded them that they will always have their Kent County roots.Salutatorian Olivia Coleman, who is heading to Liberty University in the fall to study engineering, ruminated on life and lemons in her speech. She used the adage “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” to offer her classmates advice on how to deal with the tribulations of the “real world.”

“If you really want things to get better, you have to go all in,” she said. “Give all of your effort, and you will see much better results than otherwise.”

Couch also had words of wisdom for the graduating seniors.

“Success is not an option. Success is your reason for being here,” she said.

She encouraged graduates to take action, follow their passion, learn from their mistakes and take time to thank the people that support them.

Following the speeches, Keckley presented the diplomas.

Morris, the class vice president, then led the ceremonial turning of the class ring and tassel, marking the end of one chapter of these students lives and the beginning of another.

The ceremony closed with the procession of the graduates out of the gym, some raising their hands up in triumph as family members cheered them on. The audience stomped on the bleachers in unison — a deafening display of pride.

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