More than 160 seniors in Patrick County High School’s Class of 2022 walked across the stage to receive their diplomas after being told to ‘dream on’ in pursuit of their dreams.
“Many of us sitting here today have encountered people who doubt our dreams, whether it be from someone we look up to or ourselves,” Brooke Eloria Meade, Student Government Association President, said.
On the outside, Meade said those looking in are quick to judge and label the dreams of other as ‘stupid’ or ‘too small.’ “This can lead to internal self-doubt that is further fueled by the perceived image of perfection, which is plastered all over social media, and the unrealistic expectations that go along with it,” she said.
Meade noted that often, the opinions and doubts of others cause young people to give up on their dreams.
“Additionally, societal expectations have demanded us to try to fit certain roles and avoid straying too far away from what society has already predetermined for us based on the cards that each of us was dealt,” she said.
Even COVID-19 held the dream on message, by forcing students to learn virtually, miss opportunities, and sacrifice for nearly three years of high school.
“We remained strong and are wiser now because we continue to pursue our dreams despite the obstacles that were in our way. Even with all these forces working against us, accomplishing our dreams with the adversity that life brings is possible and necessary,” she said.
Meade said every graduate sitting in front of her has a dream that is “valid and worth working towards no matter many people or situation along the way doubt you. Dream on.”
Class president Josie Raye Vernon said she is beyond proud of the Class of 2022 for everything it accomplished, especially considering the circumstances and hardships of the past few years.
“I cannot say that I know exactly what all of our futures hold, but I am fully confident in saying that every single one of us has the absolute potential to succeed,” she said.
Vernon said she pictures the past five years of her high school career as a hike. Graduation, she added, is the cliff at the top. “It definitely wasn’t an easy hike. We faced virtual learning, the loss of a classmate and friend, an entire pandemic, and I believe the worst cases of senioritis known to Patrick County High School,” she said.
Nearing graduation and the cliff at the end of the hike, Vernon said she realized the simple answer of what to do next is: Jump.
“Coming from someone who is deathly afraid of heights, I am fully aware that jumping off a cliff or even going anywhere near a cliff, does not sound particularly fun. However, even if you have no idea what life looks like beyond this cliff, I guarantee you will be surprised at how rewarding jumping will be,” she said.
Vernon said the most beautiful parts of life are the moments when one gives up control, leaps into the unknown and lets God lead.
“There will never be a more perfect moment to follow your dreams and aspirations than the present. Life is truly too short to stay on the edge, afraid of what might lay before you,” she said.
Band Director Joseph Whitt also spoke about member Isaac Rakes, who passed away in March.
“It was five years ago that he stepped into my classroom. He was easily the most quiet, reserved student I had ever met. In fact, he was so shy that he never spoke to me voluntarily except to answer roll call each day,” he said.
Whitt said the first time Rakes approached him was in late spring semester of 8th grade when he asked to be part of the band’s drumline.
“From that moment forward, Isaac’s involvement and dedication to our band program started growing exponentially. Isaac went on to become an important part of the band, and an important part of my life and the lives of his fellow band members,” he said.
Because marching band season is a stressful time, Whitt said Rakes developed somewhat of a sixth-sense for when he needed an emotional pick-me-up. “So, he started drawing some of the funniest pictures I’ve ever seen. He would walk up to me, in the middle of class, hand the folded drawing to me calmly, and just stand there with that iconic grin he had and wait for me to open them,” he said.
Whitt said he was able to connect with Rakes and build a relationship that inspired him as a musician. “For that relationship, I will be eternally grateful,” he said.
Throughout his band career, Rakes participated in, and was vital to, several of the group’s competition wins, including the 2019-20 competition season, which was one of most successful years in band history, and several grand championship victories.
“Isaac Rakes was an important part of this band program and the lives of its members during every championship victory, milestone, and major challenge the band has faced. Throughout it all, he was with us. When we eventually win our fifth, sixth, and seventh grand championships Isaac will still be there. He will still be with us.
“As long as this school stands, as long as this band program endures, and as long as those who follow in our footsteps are here on this earth, Isaac Rakes will still be there, he will still be with us,” he said.
Of the 163 graduates, principal Hope Perry said 64 received an advanced diploma and 88 earned a standard diploma. Seven graduated received an applied studies diploma and two received honorary diplomas.
Perry said the Class of 2022 also earned a variety of seals. “We have 38 students earning Governor’s seals, and 37 students will receive a Civics seal. 35 will receive an early college scholar’s seal, and 38 will receive a board of education seal,” she said.
Perry said nine graduates received STEM seals and two earned Commonwealth Scholar’s seals.
“In our CTE (Career & Technical Education) program we have 145 students receiving their CTE seal. 10 of those will receive their CTE completer gold medallion,” she said.
Perry said 34 percent of graduates plan to attend a two-year college and 23 percent plan to attend a four-year college or university.
“Four percent of our seniors plan to attend a trade or technical school. One percent of our senior class will join the military, and 38 percent of our seniors plan to go straight into the workforce,” she said.
Patrick & Henry Community College (P&HCC) President Dr. Greg Hodges added that 10 students also received their Associates degree in addition to their high school diploma.