Lessons For Life

Published 4:58 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD – “I'm very, very glad to be here today,” Prince Edward County High School commencement speaker Dr. Kathleen Smith offered Saturday morning. “And just to let you know, you are not a low-performing school. You are a high-performing school and you've come a long ways. And so students of this class have made that possible and I thank you for all of your hard work. And that means a lot to me.”

Dr. Smith, the Virginia Department of Education's Director of the Office for School Improvement, would note that 109 of the 168 graduates are planning to attend college, 15 are going to a vocational or trade school, ten have decided to serve our country and join the military service, six are certified nurses assistants, and four have earned a high school diploma and an associate's degree from Southside Virginia Community College.

“Some of you haven't yet decided what road to take,” Dr. Smith said. “You're the little eaglets, but you're gonna get there. By the end of the day, I'm gonna help you with that. And I hope I leave you with some thoughts.”

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The educator offered three lessons, which she said she hopes will help them on their journey. She began by reflecting on Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken and taking the road less traveled.

“My lesson is this: it is OK to take risks. Steve Blanks once said the world is run by those who show up, not those waiting to be asked. Don't wait to be asked.”

She encouraged, “The creative place is the place where no one else has ever been. It is not the previously known. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can't get there by bus; only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you are doing, but what you will discover will be wonderful. What you will discover will be yourself.”

Dr. Smith also encouraged graduates to stay the course, not to turn back and to always move forward.

“Think of Barbara Rose Johns from this community. On April 23 in 1951, at 16 years old, this student from Prince Edward County covertly organized a student general strike. Her strike was organized to support R.R. Moton High School here in this county. The school had suffered from terrible conditions due to under-funding. It did not have a gymnasium, a cafeteria or teachers restrooms. Teachers and students did not have desks or blackboards and, due to overcrowding, some students had to take their classes in an immobilized, decrepit school bus parked outside the main building. The school's request for additional funds were denied.”

Dr. Smith recounted the story of the strike. She also cited the effort of Rev. L. Francis Griffin who united parents in support of the strike and encouraged the student to contact NAACP attorneys.

“And that…protest resulted in a lawsuit, part of the Brown vs. Board of Education-the famous case in which the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 officially overturned the racial segregation in U.S. public schools,” she said.

She also noted, “Barbara showed no fear, neither did Rev. Griffin. Barbara said, 'It seemed like I was reaching for the moon.' There were probably many opportunities for her to turn back, but she didn't.”

Dr. Smith encouraged graduates to keep their focus on what matters most.

“Distractions will be there. There will be roadblocks and obstacles. Be ready for them. Obstacles can be overcome by knowledge. Never, ever stop learning,” she said.

Dr. Smith encouraged the graduates to think of graduation as the first chapter in a very long book.

It's not the obstacles that inhibit your progress, Dr. Smith cited, but it's their confidence and their will to break the inertia of fear and doubt. “It is your path,” she said. “It is your destiny. Work hard. Stay the course.”

The most important lesson, she offered, is to spend time listening to their elders.

“No matter what you think, they have been down that untraveled road before. They know what mistakes could be made and what those mistakes might cost. Their life stories provide insight into the ups and downs and everything that you will face in between.”


Class Salutatorian Chelsea Robertson opened the program with a welcome.

“At approximately noon today, we will all be out on our own flying like true eagles. While today may seem like the ending to a very long and rewarding journey, it's just the beginning and the best is still yet to come,” she said. “When you leave today, take with you all the fruition of your diligence, your memories and, most importantly, all the knowledge, skills and experience with which high school has equipped you.

“Leave here knowing that you're the best and with the right mindset, there's nothing we can't achieve. Now is the time to show off your progress and accomplishments. Now is the time to make your impact on the world. Now is the time to celebrate-not because high school is over, but because you are ready to continue our second journey and to conquer anything life has to throw at us.”

She encouraged her fellow graduates to choose their own destiny.


Class Valedictorian Elaina Hill reflected on the past and what they have learned, but also looked to the future.

“All of this knowledge will, without a doubt, be invaluable to us as we go forward in life, but I believe that the most…essential piece of insight that we can take away from the last four years is that success is the fruit of fortitude and collaboration,” she said. “We might not be here today had we not challenged ourselves and overcome those challenges. Likewise, we might not be here today had we all not received some kind of assistance. May our future endeavors be just as prosperous through our own determination and through the support of others.”

Hill recognized “the remarkable people that have been our sources of support,” highlighting the plethora of accomplishments would not have been possible without the encouragement and guidance of parents, teachers, counselors, coaches and the inspiration of their community as a whole.

“To these important people, I would like to say that our success is your success today,” Hill said. “You have furnished us with the audacity to overcome adversity, the knowledge and skill to excel and the belief that we can prosper. You have instilled in us the confidence we need to settle for nothing less than our hopes and dreams.”

Hill challenged her classmates to make the best of the talents and abilities that they have discovered in themselves.

“Move forward and expose even more personal traits and abilities that are hidden beneath your surface,” she said. “I challenge you to always strive for nothing less than what you see in your dreams.”

Citing Winston Churchill, she offered that success is not fail and failure is not fatal. It's the courage to continue that counts.

“We should not stop seeking motion if we fall to failure nor if we reach a point of success. Because failure is never the end and success is endless,” Hill said.

Other Speakers

“Seniors, today is the most special day of your life so far,” reflected Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith. You've worked hard for this day and been successful. You've been successful because you set goals and you let nothing stand in the way of reaching them. You're successful also because of the timeless efforts of your parents and family members, your teachers and school staff members and your community. Look around the room today, you see the most important people in your life. Treasure those relationships, protect them and nourish them. They will guide you in your chosen life journey. You must repay their kindness and love by helping to guide and support others as well.”

School Board Chairman Russell Dove offered, “You have completed this phase and you're entering the next phase and I am confident you are prepared to face…the challenges you have ahead.”


Four graduates completed college courses required for an associate of arts and science degree from SVCC. It is a university parallel degree designed to transfer to four-year colleges and universities.

It was noted that it is made possible through the partnership between the County's schools, Governor's School of Southside Virginia and SVCC. Students are able to earn college credit while also earning high school credits.

The four, Amie Renee Dews, Estephanie Denise Luperon, Jasmine Latrice Taylor, and Joseph Devonte Toney, have already graduated. Each was presented a medal at Saturday's ceremony from SVCC's Dr. Paula Gastenveld.

Graduates one by one made their way across the middle school gym stage to receive their hard-earned diploma. Those in attendance gave an especially warm reception for graduate Colin Werth.

Werth, who has muscular dystrophy, walked across the stage with his rising-fifth grade sister Gwen.