Graduates encouraged to soar like the Eagles

Published 6:28 pm Thursday, May 25, 2023

During their graduation ceremony, the 2023 Prince Edward County High School graduates were encouraged by classmates, teachers and now fellow alumni. 

Graduates, family, friends, staff and school board members gathered on Saturday, May 20, to celebrate years of hard work, resilience and relationships coming to fruition. 

“Now, (we bring) closure to the 12 or 13 years of finding your why,” said Prince Edward County High Principal Gwendolyn McQuaige-Hicks. “Yet it will signify a new why, a new purpose.”

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During her speech, valedictorian Dima Hamza recounted the unique hardships that this class went through. It was in the middle of their freshman year that everything stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic. This class would spend all of their sophomore year attending classes exclusively online. 

“Our sophomore year can be summed up into one word, nonexistent,” she said. “We traded desks for beds, worksheets with Canvas and classrooms with Zoom meetings. It was a year of true hardships and true struggles but it was a year we survived.” 

It was their junior year that allowed this class to experience many firsts that should have taken place their freshman year. As they powered through their senior year, Hamza called them a class of survivors. 

Be whatever and whoever you want

The keynote speaker was Cainan Townsend, managing director of the Moton Museum. He joked about waiting to come back as the keynote speaker after he did something cool with his life. 

“When I did want to come back to Prince Edward, I wanted to come not as a flex but to be an example,” he said. “An example that Eagles can go off and do whatever they want to do and be whatever they want to be.”

Townsend went on to say that he didn’t need to be the example as there are countless examples that came before and set that example already. He gave advice from 10 alumni he spoke to beforehand and passed their advice to the graduates. 

Townsend quoted Bianca Casper, the senior constituent representative for Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan, who encourages the graduates to keep their minds open to new opportunities and live authentically. Also, Dr. Jessica Babbs, who just graduated from the University of Lynchburg with her clinical doctorate in physical therapy encourages the graduates to understand the value of the work and understand your why. 

He also highlighted Nash Osborn, Kay Woodson, Anthony Sprague, Courtney Coburn, Brenda Goodson and Rita Odom Moseley. These alumni both locally and throughout the country made their way after graduating from Prince Edward High School. They advised the graduates to find their passion and make a career out of it, work hard, have integrity and understand the sacrifices and the investment others have made to get them where they are today. 

Lastly, Townsend mentioned James Maceo West, who is 92 and co-created an electric microphone patent that’s used in 90% of the ones used around the world today. Due to the reliance on microphones, no commencement would be possible without the work of a Prince Edward County Schools alumni.

“That’s what your degree is worth,” said Townsend. “That’s what value you bring to this world. You can go off and do anything you put your mind to and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise because of where you came from.”