“As we receive our diplomas today, we are grateful for each of you who have helped us, encouraged us and guided us to reach this point of our lives. We are also grateful for the Thomas Academy faculty, staff and administration who have encouraged each of us to pursue our future dreams. Today we realized that all our work together was worth it.”
These words of welcome from Thomas Academy Class of 2021 member Nah’Tohri Wilkins set the tone of gratitude, connection, and compassion during the graduation ceremony held on Saturday, June 5 in the Leamon Rogers Memorial Chapel.
“Each student has a very tremendous story behind them coming across that stage,” said Principal and Chief Academic Officer George Ward III in his remarks to graduates. “There are a lot of people who have put in a lot of time and hours. Your teachers have provided weekend time to make sure you accomplish your goals. It’s great that you have finished and it’s something to definitely celebrate, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your learning. So continue to be productive and do your best.”
All seven members of the graduating class are enrolled in college courses for the fall, with differing academic interests. To support their educational pursuits, each student received scholarship support.
“Thomas Academy could not come close to doing all the activities, programs and initiatives for students that we would like without all the generous support that the community provides,” Ward said.
The Eleanor and Lew Puckett Memorial Scholarships were awarded to Lindsay Cole, Terra Mitchell, Zahier Thomas and Nah’Tohri Wilkins. Moeshia Whitehead received the Topsail Island Kiwanis Scholarship.
Thomas Academy Board of Directors Chair Larry Hewett helped to present the final scholarship of the ceremony.
“This scholarship was created this year and is named for a man who has dedicated his whole life for the betterment of young people,” Ward said. “He has been a tremendous advocate for our students in so many ways, most notably his many years of service in Key Club and Kiwanis, his service on staff at Boys and Girls Homes, and serving on the Thomas Academy Board of Directors. The first ever Larry Hewett Scholarship is awarded to Alexia Baxter.”
The graduates also received words of wisdom from Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina Retired Vice President of Education Dr. Tom Simmons.
“Our speaker today is no stranger to Thomas Academy or the campus of Boys and Girls Homes,” said Wilkins in her introduction of the speaker. “In fact, he arrived here in 1958 before there was a chapel, before there was Thomas Academy, before most of us in this room were born.
“Over the past 35 years he has been recognized as one of the foremost educators in eastern North Carolina,” she continued. “We all can thank him for coming out of retirement to become the director of Flemington Academy, now Thomas Academy. In fact, you can find his name on the cornerstone of the Anthony J. Brill Middle School building we enter and exit each day at school. All of us graduating today have been helped and inspired by Dr. Simmons.”
Simmons started his remarks with a reflection on his selection as the speaker for the ceremony.
“This is your special day and I’m honored to be a part of it,” Simmons said. “A graduation speech is supposed to be inspiring or motivating. I wasn’t sure I could possibly say anything to motivate anyone. But as I reflected on the vision and the mission of Thomas Academy, I thought of all your teachers who helped you reach this milestone in your life. To the administration and teachers of Thomas Academy, thank you for caring for each of these graduates. Thank you for encouraging them not to settle for good enough when they felt like giving up. Thank you for showing them that hard work pays off. Thank you for listening for their dreams and dreaming with them.”
Simmons continue to explore guidance on how the graduates can work to turn their dreams into reality.
“Each of us has dreams,” Simmons said. “You can change your dreams into reality. Dreaming alone just doesn’t accomplish anything. Making our dreams real takes work, hard work, but if you’re willing to put forth the effort and the time you can step into the wonderful world of the dream that you dreamed.
“Reaching your dream involves two steps – choosing the right dream and turning it into reality,” he continued. “Choose a dream that will force you to stretch your limits to achieve success without breaking your spirits if you happen to fall. If we want to complete the journey to our goal, we need to develop three important qualities – confidence, persistence, and enthusiasm. Without these qualities our journey is doomed.”
Simmons ended his speech with some final words of wisdom for the graduates.
“Your future should not be determined by where you come from. Your futures will be determined by how far you believe you can take yourself. So dream, dream big, and take yourself anywhere you want to go. Don’t ever think that you’re too small to make a difference because you can make a difference in the world. If you ever think you’re too small to make a difference, I’ll bet you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito.”
One of the unique aspects of the Thomas Academy graduation ceremony is the reflections on each graduate by a faculty or staff member selected by the graduate. These short reflections highlight the strength of the connections formed through the individualized educational experience at the school.
The ceremony also included a performance by the BGHNC Choir.
About Thomas Academy
Thomas Academy is a North Carolina Public Charter School that educates middle and high school students. Located in Lake Waccamaw, the academy provides a tailored academic experience to students who are oftentimes in need of a more specialized, integrated curriculum. Thomas Academy was founded on personalization in education, unique offerings and educating through purposeful design. Enrollment is open to any student in grades six through 12.