Thomas Academy graduation highlights connection, compassion, character

June 19, 2020

“This hasn’t been the most ideal senior year for anyone, I know that, but one thing we can get out of this is we’ve all made lifelong friendships. I can name every single person out here. One of us has done something for one another. We made this senior year our own year.”

These words of welcome by graduate Brandon Almond highlighted the themes of connection, compassion and character that echoed throughout the Thomas Academy 2020 graduation ceremony.

Thomas Academy held this unique ceremony in front of the Leamon Rogers Memorial Chapel at Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina with guests attending in their vehicles. B&GH President Gary Faircloth shared his encouragement with the graduating class.

“Today is an amazing day for you and just one step to discovering your greatness,” said Faircloth. “You are well on your way. It is just amazing to get to this point and achieve all that you have to this point. You have a lot more greatness to discover. Let your vision and your dream go as far as you can take it.”

Thomas Academy Board Chair Larry Hewett shared his pride in the connection to the graduating class.

“As the chairman of the Thomas Academy Board of Education, I can’t begin to tell you on behalf of the Board how proud we are of what you have accomplished,” he said. “No other group of seniors have had to go through what you have, but you have done it and shown your character and pride.”

The shortened ceremony featured a keynote address by barrier breaking athlete Sheila Boles, who was introduced by graduate Dyshaunna Mitchell.

“She has been inducted into the Wilmington Sport Hall of Fame, NC Athletic Association Sports Hall of Fame, NC Athletic Director Hall of Fame, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Sport Hall of Fame, and George Whiteville Hall of Fame,” Mitchell said. “In February 2020, UNCW retired her jersey.”

Boles shared her journey from high school athlete to coach during her speech.

“In 1972, I graduated from high school and unlike most women, I had the good fortune to play high school basketball and softball,” she shared. “Most high schools across the state of North Carolina at that time did not have women’s athletics nor did they have them across the nation. And colleges certainly did not have women’s athletics. So I graduated from high school thinking that I would never play competitive basketball again.”

Boles credits the passage of Title IX in the summer of 1972 with changing the course of her life. She saw a sign when she registered for classes at UNCW in the fall of 1973 about a women’s athletics interest meeting.

“So I attended that meeting and as a result of that meeting women’s basketball was born at UNCW,” Boles said. “The next year we started volleyball. So I had the opportunity to play on the first women’s basketball team, first women’s volleyball team and earn the first women’s basketball scholarship at UNCW.

“I went from having no athletics in my life to spending 40 years in athletics,” Boles continued. “I got to do what I loved. And I loved helping people through sports. It would not have worked the other way around. If I had loved basketball more than I loved people, it just would not have worked.”

Boles reflected that her journey was made even more special because of the opportunities provided through connections created by her character.

“I had the opportunity to do things a woman was not supposed to do at the time,” Boles said.
“After several years of coaching, I earned the opportunity to become the first woman to be a men’s varsity basketball coach in the state of North Carolina – seventh in the nation. I became the first woman to be an athletic director in New Hanover County.

“I tell you this to remind you of something the great Dr. Martin Luther King said – ‘No one has the right to rain on your dreams’,” she said. “I’ve had more accolades and awards than one person deserves. You heard some of them when I was introduced. I am proud and honored by my accomplishments and awards, but the bottom line is that is not what people will remember me for. They will remember me for the way I treated them and people will remember you by the way you treat them.”

Thomas Academy Director Dr. Geraldine Bradshaw shared a laugh with the graduates about how she would be remembered before presenting the 2020 Distinguished Senior Award.

“It is my honor to present the most distinguished senior award to someone who has fought their way up, worked hard, who has been dedicated,” she said. “Someone who has been very, very quiet and would have gone unrecognized if you don’t know who she is. Ms. Catelyn Thomas.”

Bradshaw then presented several scholarships to members of the graduating class. The Konnoak Hills Lions Club Scholarship was presented to Enrique Farbotko; the Eleanor and Lew Puckett Memorial Scholarship was presented to Matthew Horne, Lea Brown, Shamia Hines, Jacob Kelly, Dyshaunna Mitchell, Julie Skipper, Shannon Webb, and Madison Whaley; the Cary Kildaire Scholarship was presented to Gianna Delgado; the Jack and Jean Holt Scholarship was presented to Amber Sneedon; the Topsail Kiwanis Scholarship was presented to Amber Sneedon and Catelyn Thomas; the North Carolina District East Civitan Scholarship was presented to Gianna Delgado; and the Wilmington Rotary Scholarship was presented to Enrique Farbotko.

Boles presented the Joe Robinson Wilmington Hall of Fame Scholarship to Brandon Almond.

Hewett presented the Black’s Tire & Auto Service Scholarship to Gianna Delgado.

Faircloth presented the J. Scott Johnson Scholarship to Joshua Puga-Luna and the Anthony J. Brill Valedictorian Scholarship to Joshua Skinner.

Class Salutatorian Gianna Delgado presented a senior class goodbye.

“I’m so glad we could gather here today for our graduation that won’t be forgotten for more than a few reasons,” Delgado said. “The Class of 2020 has faced more than we should have had to. We’ve overcome uncontrollable weather as you can now see. The day started sunny and now it looks like it’s about to downpour. We’ve faced a global pandemic, killer hornets, and yet somehow all of us managed to come out with diplomas.”

Delgado shared some advice for members of the Class of 2021.

“For the students we leave behind, and the upcoming seniors, me and my fellow classmates would like to tell you something,” she said. “It’s okay not to have all the answers. Not all of us start knowing everything and I’m sure most of us still don’t know all the answers. We’re young. We’re allowed not to know.”

Valedictorian Joshua Skinner challenged his fellow graduates to use three qualities of the eagle as they move into the next phase of life.

“One important quality an eagle has is its keen vision,” Skinner said. “The eagle uses its sight to discern what is up ahead. Discernment is very useful and is usually correlated with wisdom.

“Eagles have wings just like people have relationships,” he continued. “Each feather of the eagle’s wings is a different relationship you have with every single person that you meet on a daily basis. One may fall away, but then another and then another and another takes its place. And those feathers help the eagle soar with its wings. Even in the darkest time and the brightest of days so it can rise to the horizon and see into the future.

“And also the last quality of the eagle that I think is really important is its dauntless determination. The courageous part of the eagle. The quality that gives us hope for tomorrow that no matter if we can’t fly maybe the first time if we keep trying and trying and trying our hardest we’ll eventually soar.”

Vice President for Education Dr. Tom Simmons shared some wisdom before the students turned their tassels to officially commemorate their graduation.

“As you prepare to take your next steps into your life’s journey, I hope that you will always keep searching for that connection,” said Simmons. “Find where you belong and make your mark on the world. Always be compassionate to everyone. A reassuring word or a kind gesture from you just might make someone’s life better. Never stop developing your character. It doesn’t matter what kind of job you have or how much money you make, you are going to be judged by your character.”

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. For more information, visit our website