Windsor High graduates 139

Published 6:33 pm Friday, June 11, 2021

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Windsor High School salutatorian Leah Carroll lives in a rural home without internet access. When she began her senior year this past September amid a pandemic that’s killed more than 590,000 Americans and more than 3.7 million people worldwide, she had to drive about an hour every day to attend virtual classes at a relative’s house.

Other times, completing her schoolwork on time meant doing so from a parking lot with good cellular reception. Still, she managed to finish second in her class.

“I share this not as a story for pity but as a story of resilience, a story I know all of you share,” Carroll told her fellow graduates during an in-person commencement ceremony held at Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton rather than the school’s football field on account of a rainy forecast.

“It may not look just like mine; your story may involve working two jobs while remaining a full-time student or battling to maintain your mental and physical health on top of graduating, or just questioning where you belong in the confusing polarized society we’ve come to find ourselves in,” Carroll continued. “However your story of surviving a pandemic while having to attend high school reads, let it stay with you. Let it serve as a reminder that while you may never know what’s coming next, you are armed with the tools and the resilience to face it. Most importantly, do not let your story go unheard. Even if it seems easier to just shut down, and trust me, I know the feeling, find strength within that story of yours to share it, even just a part of it, because I promise you someone will listen, someone wants to listen.”

Up next was valedictorian Shivam Patel, who spoke of a question he saw on a scholarship application asking him how he would describe his high school to a new student.

“And I really thought about this,” Patel said. “What makes Windsor High School so special? What makes it different from those big schools like York, Tabb, or Grafton? And as I thought about all the memories I made here, two words popped in my head: Spirit and Family.”

“When our football team was trying their hearts out against other schools, rain or shine, the bleachers behind them would be full of our people cheering for them … the band would be there playing their hearts out,” he continued. “That the teachers here have taught our siblings, parents, uncles, aunts, and will continue to teach our legacies … As we move on to the next chapter in our lives, let’s keep this family and spirit in our hearts. Through our toughest times and happiest moments, let’s cherish the fact that we graduated as Windsor Dukes.”

“Seniors, four years ago we started this journey together — you as freshmen, myself as a first-year principal,” said Principal Laura Sullivan. “And how much we have grown. I consider it one of my highest honors of my career to have watched you create yourselves as individuals and collectively as a class. Just like the end of last school year, nobody could have predicted how the 2020-2021 school year would go. To say you have embodied grit and greatness is an understatement. But it also would be a mistake to only focus on this last year. While your senior year is important and you were able to salvage some memories like senior prom and senior teach day … we know that this year is only a tiny blip on the timeline of your life.”

“We see you not as defined by this year but as defined by the kindness that you have shown, the fun that you’ve had and the hope that you have exhibited,” Sullivan continued. “When presented with the option to stand up for equity and human compassion, you’ve inspired all who watched you stand up for your beliefs and challenged the status quo.”

Before presenting the 139 seniors with their diplomas, School Board Chairwoman Jackie Carr and Joel Acree, who represents the Windsor District on Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors, also spoke.

“Today represents the end of a very important chapter in your life and the beginning of that next exciting yet challenging chapter,” Carr said. “As you begin to fill the empty pages in this next chapter of your life keep cause and effect in mind … your choices will cause things to happen; the effects are what you will live with, good or bad. It’s all about choices.”

“I’m certain that each and every one of you will make a difference in your own special way,” Acree said. “You are our future. Life gets busy so take time for the special things in life. Please take time to show those who are close to you how much you truly care. Take time also to give back to your community.”