Kimberly Labra-Franco is all smiles as she and other Warren Early College High School students enter commencement exercises Friday night.

Warren Early College High School sent students out into the world Friday night as Warren County Schools held its first ceremony of the 2019 graduation season.

Early College had a lot to brag about. All of its 19 graduates had earned both their high school and associate of arts or science degrees during their time at the school, and most—13 of them—had graduated in just four years, rather than the usual five that are typical of an early college high school.

Another honor for the Class of 2019 was that every student had been accepted into a four-year college or university.

As are most graduations, Friday’s ceremony was full of emotion, as graduate Nyasia Warren struggled to overcome hers at the start to perform The National Anthem. Comforted by Principal Shena Royster, Warren received affirmations from the audience and applause at the conclusion of a strong finish.

In her tribute to teachers and staff, early graduate Ellen Denning called the school the students’ home away from home and described the staff as loving and supportive, leaders who believed in the students and invested in them wholeheartedly.

“The real heroes are the staff at our school,” she said.

Denning credited the teachers with helping students become masters of time management, and with being caring and understanding about personal and academic struggles. She called them cheerleaders, counselors and advisors who helped students mediate relationships between high school and college.

“They taught compassion … and the ability to look at circumstances from all perspectives,” she said.

Senior Class Vice President Nihya Alston, an early graduate, gave the academic address.

Even though classmates may not have come from the same place, they had all faced the same challenges, she said.  

“This journey to this day has been challenging,” Alston said. “Concurrently, we were high school students as well as college students. With determination and perseverance, each of us rose to the challenge, and we received our high school diplomas as well as our associate degrees.”

The journey included personal obstacles, she noted, but everyone pushed through and stayed focused.

“No matter where the road takes us, we will always remember and cherish all that Warren County has taught us,” Alston said. “We were taught to beat the odds and to make the most of what we were given. We were taught that our environment and circumstances do not dictate our success, and that we are not defined by statistics. Because of these lessons, we are proud products of Warren County and Warren County Schools.”

In closing, Alston told her classmates to hold on to their memories, continue to do great things, keep in touch and never forget all they had learned.

Dr. Catherine Edmonds, superintendent of Bertie County Schools, gave two pieces of advice in the keynote address.

First, she told graduates to find their purpose.

“Sometimes it takes us awhile to find that purpose, that thing that we’re very passionate about, that thing that’s happening around us that we feel that we can contribute back to, that we can give back to our community,” Edmonds said. “When you find your purpose, that passion that you have will fuel your fire to success.”

Second, she told the graduates to run their own race and stay focused.

Edmonds ended with a quote: “There are two types of people: Those who will tell you that you cannot make a difference in this world, and those who are afraid you will succeed.”

“So find your purpose … and run your own race, and I say to you the Warren Early College High School Class of 2019, do awesome things just as you have done here in your hometown,” she said. “Give back to whatever community you’re in, and I know you’re going to make a difference.”

Early graduate Taylor Williams gave the tribute to parents, thanking them for wearing various hats as providers, protectors, a never-ending money supply and free taxi drivers.

“You have raised us to be respectful of others as well as ourselves, to always stand up for what is right and to help others in need.” she said.

Williams thanked parents for teaching perseverance, never giving up on the students, pushing them to reach their full potential and seeing the best in them.

“We will never forget the support you gave,” she said. “Thank you for never giving up on us. We appreciate and love you very much, and we cannot wait to make you all proud.”

In the class farewell address, early graduate Sha’Niya Perry, senior class president, said her class had created a bond like no other.

“We have all learned to care for each other as siblings. We are truly a little family,” she said. “Now that we are finally here, I want to freeze time, just for a moment, to share one more memory with you all.”

Perry said students in the Class of 2019 came to the school immature and undeveloped, but were leaving as strong-minded individuals who understand what they want out of life and would stop at nothing to reach every goal they set for themselves.

“We have come far and have done many great things, but this is only the beginning. We have set the bar high and become role models for the students who remain,” she said. “We will continue to flourish and excel at everything we put our minds to. We have done exceptional things in this community, and I have no doubt that we will continue to blossom wherever we are planted.”

Friday’s graduation marked Warren County Schools’ first year of Latin honors designations, replacing valedictorian and salutatorian.

Seven WECHS students graduated summa cum laude, with a grade point average of 3.8 or higher; seven graduated magna cum laude, with a grade point average of 3.5 to 3.79; and four graduated cum laude, with a grade point average of 3.2 to 3.499.