Thomas Academy celebrates the Class of 2019

June 19, 2019

Lake Waccamaw, NThe Thomas Academy Class of 2019 tossing their caps during graduationC – “An issue in our modern society is comparing yourself to one another when all you need to do to become the best person is to compare the you of today to the you of yesterday. Most of us have come so far already, going against the statistics by coming this far to graduate from high school and then go on for higher education. And for that, we can hold our heads high.”

Thomas Academy Co-Valedictorian Racheal Winger’s challenge to the rising seniors was just one highlight in the 2019 graduation ceremony held Saturday, June 8 in the Catherine V. Powell Educational Center Gymnasium.

The class of 2019 was 16 members strong and the ceremony commemorating their achievements included strong challenges from the speakers.

“We all will face days when it seems like the whole world is caving in and those questions are going to cloud our minds,” said Co-Valedictorian Annaelise Kennedy. “What’s my plan? How am I going to pay for that? How am I going to make any of this work? On the days that we are at our weakest, our integrity will be tested. In those times of darkness, we can choose to be authentic, surrender the outcome and do uncomfortable work. When we do that, we will achieve success beyond what we believe is possible. We will gain the respect of our peers and we will gain the respect of ourselves.”

The respect the graduates have already gained was demonstrated through the presentation of awards and scholarships. Thomas Academy Director Dr. Geraldine Bradhsaw presented the Distinguished Senior Award to Andrea Ward.

“This award recognizes the senior who best exemplifies the Thomas Academy commitments to connection, compassion and character,” said Bradshaw. “Andrea represents all of those commitments through all that she has done as a student.”

Bradshaw then presented several scholarships to members of the graduating class.  The Konnoak Hills Lions Club Scholarship was presented to Malik Parker; the Eleanor and Lew Puckett Memorial Scholarship was presented to Caroline Bracey, Ja’Merah Mitchell, Daysha McKoy, Andrea Ward, and Wayne Taggett; the Jack and Jean Holt Memorial Scholarship was presented to Malik Parker; and the North Carolina District East Civitan Scholarship was presented to Racheal Winger.

Sisters Patricia Medlin and Barbara Burton presented the Sissy and Luther Lamb Memorial Scholarship in memory of their parents.

“Sissy and Luther Lamb gave us so much in way of the ethic for work, the ethic of putting God first, and the ethic of being respectful and always doing your best,” said Medlin. “It gives us great honor to present this to someone with similar characteristics. We believe she will go and be a change agent in our world, Miss Racheal Winger.”

Winger was also presented with the inaugural Thomas Academy J. Scott Johnson Scholarship, named in honor of the Carolinas District Key Club Administrator and Thomas Academy graduation keynote speaker.

“One of the greatest honors you can have in life is when someone else does something on your behalf,” Johnson said. “A group of friends through Kiwanis and Key Club felt a great way to honor me was to start a scholarship program in my name that they would fund so that I would have the opportunity to honor someone else.”

Larry Hewett announced that the Black’s Tire & Auto Service Scholarship will be renewed for Class of 2018 graduate Macey Savage as she continues her education at Western Carolina University.

“Education is important to (BTS Owners) Ricky and Dianne Benton,” said Hewett. “They have a special passion for providing the opportunity for success in college to a member of the Thomas Academy family and have raised funds specifically for a scholarship.”

Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina President Gary Faircloth presented the Anthony J. Brill Valedictorian Scholarship to co-valedictorians Annaelise Kennedy and Racheal Winger.

“Anthony J. Brill, the namesake of our middle school at Thomas Academy continues to make a tremendous impact on the campus education of our students as well as on our students following graduation as they pursue their college degrees,” Faircloth said. “We are honored to present two $2,500 Valedictorian Scholarships to Annaelise and Racheal as they continue their educational pursuits.”

The celebration included the keynote address by Johnson, who was introduced by graduate Daysha McKoy.

“Scott has been a servant leader and a part of the Kiwanis family since 1979, when he joined the Key Club at J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, NC,” said McKoy. “It was while serving as a Key Club Lt. Governor that Scott felt the love and compassion of members of the Kiwanis organization, and decided to join his former sponsoring club as soon as he earned his business degree from East Carolina University.”

The Kiwanis and Key Club connection was something that Johnson highlighted with his address, sharing a part of his high school journey with the graduates, particularly a series of Saturdays where his time was spent outside of his passions of eating, sleeping and girls. Having been awoken by his mother’s call that there was someone there to see him, Johnson recounted the first experience with Cliff, a neighborhood five-year-old who asked, “Do you want to come out and play?”

“We went outside and we tossed the football for about five minutes,” Johnson said. “And I’m not so sure to this day if I threw the football a little bit too hard by mistake or on purpose. But he went home with a couple of tears. And that was the end of that. Until the next Saturday. It only happened one more Saturday.”

Ten years later, Johnson was asked to serve as the Key Club advisor at J.H. Rose High School.

“So I went to the first Key Club meeting in a gym just like this,” Johnson recounted. “There were about 100 kids sitting all over the floor or in the bleachers. I didn’t have to do anything. They had their first 20 minutes of organizational meeting time and it was all over and all those kids got up and they went home - all but one. And a really skinny 6’ tall kid walked up to the front of the room. He said, ‘Hey, you probably don’t remember me, but my name is Cliff. When I heard you were going to be an advisor to this organization I knew it was one I wanted to join.’ Five minutes a day. Three Saturdays. Something so small and so insignificant to me was huge in the life of that 5-year-old kid. It made a lasting impact.”

Johnson continued his address by reading selections from Everything I’ve Needed to Know I Learned from A Little Golden Book, Choose to Love, and Only One You.

“Graduates, there’s only one you in this great big world,” he said. “You all have that opportunity, that five-minute opportunity on a Saturday. That compassion you show for someone else may be insignificant to you at the time, but you can make a lifelong impact on someone else.”

Vice President for Education Dr. Tom Simmons echoed Johnson’s message in his closing remarks.

“The singer Lee Ann Womack recorded a song that I want to share with you,” Simmons said. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to sing. But I think the message in the song is appropriate. So I want you to listen to these words. And make a choice. And the song is entitled ‘Dance’.“

Simmons quoted the popular song about making the choices and taking risks in life, including “when you have the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”

“Life gives each of us transgressions, hardships and loss,” Simmons said. “It’s all about how you see it, how you take it. It’s your choice. You can sit it out or you can dance. I really hope that years from now when you’re reflecting back on your life, you can say, it’s been a heck of a dance. Congratulations.”

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.

Return to Fall 2019 Communiqué Newsletter