Pomp and circumstance, speeches and struts across the stage highlighted the graduation ceremony for the Kent County High School Class of 2023.
Trojan Stadium was packed with families, friends and faculty Friday morning, June 2, all sitting outside to watch 134 KCHS seniors become KCHS grads.
“We have been high school students for roughly 75,600 minutes,” said valedictorian Nellie Rhodes is her graduation speech. “After today, we will each embark on our own adventures, and I wish all of you the best as you walk your own path.”
The ceremony began at 9:30 a.m. as the KCHS Trojan Marching Band struck up the traditional graduation theme music of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Arin Wilson, a violist from Delaware offered the ceremonial rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Class of 2023 Secretary Brooklyn Marie Usilton served as the hostess of ceremonies, introducing speakers as the ceremony progressed.
Delany Jewell, class vice president, welcomed platform guests including Superintendent of Schools Dr.Karen Couch, the Kent County Board of Education and Kent County Commissioner Albert Nickerson.
In her greeting, KCHS Principal Kris Hemstetter singled out senior after senior in the Class of 2023 for their achievements, including those who had been her students back when she was principal of Worton Elementary School.
“There is a deep sense of accomplishment for students, families, faculty and our community as we reach this day of graduation,” Hemstetter said. “Congratulations, Class of 2023. This is your moment, and you have so many incredible moments that lie ahead for each and every one of you. It is always a great day to be a Trojan.”
Dr. Couch offered the Class of 2023 three suggestions as they follow the path on the journey of their lives: take action, follow their passion and to be open to making mistakes and learning from them.
“On behalf of the Board of Education and the administration, we are truly honored to celebrate all your accomplishments. I am so proud of you,” Dr. Couch told the class.”Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey and most of all for making me smile!”
Classmates Brayden Wallace, Student Government Association president and the student member of the Board of Education, and Alycia Wilson, a Next Generation Scholars Shining Scholar, gave the senior welcome.
Wallace spoke about how the last four years have held some of the most influential and memorable moments of their lives and how each of the seniors’ experiences at KCHS have been unique.
He thanked all those he helped the Class of 2023 along the way, those at the school, at home and in the community.
“All of you have shaped and molded us into the young adults we are today,” Wallace said.
Wilson said it also was important for the members of the Class of 2023 to thank themselves for getting to graduation, having balanced sports, clubs, jobs and academic and life challenges.
“Without your own hard work and determination, you wouldn’t be here this morning ready to accept that diploma and move onto all the amazing things that your future holds,” Wilson said.”So let’s give ourselves a round of applause.”
In her message to seniors, Class President Rachel Heldmyer spoke about the impact Covid-19 had on the class, with schools closing and instruction moving online.
“We missed out on some of the most memorable events of our freshman and sophomore years,” Heldmyer said. “As we were able to overcome the hurdles that we have faced, we were still able to have an unforgettable senior year.”
Salutatorian Samantha Stead spoke about how fast life moves. She told her classmates to live their lives fully, take on challenges, persist and remember they are not alone in their struggles.
“I remember seeing ‘Class of 2023’ back in fifth grade and thinking it was so far away that we had all the time in the world,” Snead said. “Today we finish this chapter of our lives and begin writing the next.”
Jaylin Whye and Maritza Lopez Vasquez introduced keynote graduation speakers Aundra Anderson, coordinator of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education’s Next Generation Scholars program at KCHS, and former English teacher Taylor Hudson.
Anderson and Hudson used a Taylor Swift song as their entrance music and worked multiple callbacks to singer’s lyrics in their speech.
“Today, your graduation is not an ending —not a conclusion — it is a shift. One to catapult you into the next phase in your life — the next paragraph,” Hudson said.
Anderson told members of the Class of 2023 that they have changed since she met some of them back in seventh grade and they will continue to change as their life progresses.
“Keep pushing yourself to grow; don’t become stagnant,” Anderson said. “Go chase your wildest dreams and know you’re never on your own, kids. There’s someone here who has your back, you can always reach out to us.”
Their pair closed in unison by telling the Class of 2023: “This is your era.”
Following the speeches, Dr. Couch formally certified the students’ diplomas. Teacher Melissa Walters announced the graduates and Hemstetter passed members of the Class of 2023 their diplomas.
Board of Education members Joe Goetz and Frank Rhodes were among those parents who were given the opportunity to personally hand their children their diplomas.
KCHS assistant principals Aaron Pretlow and Angeline Rivello were at the base of stage to congratulate students as they made their way back to their seats.
The seniors made the most of their moment in the spotlight. There were big waves to the crowd and students showing off their best strut or dance moves.
With the diplomas passed out, Matthew Wade, class treasurer, led the seniors in the traditional turning of their rings and tassels, marking their new status as KCHS alumni.
And with that, caps went flying through the air, the crowd cheered and the members of the KCHS Class of 2023 congratulated one another on their accomplishment.