Loudoun graduates commence, will soon explore
Trevor Baratko, Times-Mirror Staff Writer
Throughout life, people experience these flashes of clarity. Short-lived moments when they realize an opportunity, or when a rush of enthusiasm jolts them into action. Sometimes, it's nothing more than timing.
For Loudoun County's Hiba Malik, one of those spells came in August 2012. The teenager was about to begin the final two years of her high school career at a new high school, John Champe in Aldie.
Malik, by her own account, was coming off two so-so academic years at Freedom High School. Against her wishes – essentially because of transportation issues – Hiba was forced from the quickly-overcrowding Freedom to the new John Champe.
One morning, a couple weeks before classes at her new school were set to begin, something clicked in Malik's head. Her disenchantment was replaced with dedication. It was a new day. Tabula rasa.
“I know it sounds so cliché, but it really was just like that,” Malik, who was selected earlier this year as a Loudoun Times-Mirror Future Leader, said.
On June 16, Malik graduated as the first class president of John Champe High School, where, before hundreds of proud eyes, she was honored with the inaugural JCHS Faculty Award.
All this because of a clear mind on an August morning 20 months ago.
For first-timers, John Champe's class of 2014 excelled, Principal John Gabriel noted during the two-hour commencement. Among the highlights: the graduates earned more than $1.7 million worth of scholarships; within the class is a Harvard-bound scholar, salutatorian Andrea Colon-Perez; the Color Guard squad placed second in the state; the group boasted 22 National Honor Society members; and more than 80 percent of the graduates plan to further their education at a post-secondary institution.
“This has become an impressive school in a short time,” said Gabriel, who provided some comedy at the afternoon ceremony by kneeling down for a smartphone selfie with the graduates.
“I will miss each and every one of you. You will likely be the smallest senior class to graduate from John Champe High School, but what you lacked in sheer numbers, you made up for in personality,” Gabriel said.
Jacqueline Liou, the valedictorian of JCHS' 138-person class, spoke matter-of-factly to her classmates, urging them to think critically, to challenge not only themselves, but their instructors too, and, most of all, be more concerned with the “we” over the “I.”
“As of today, I challenge you to open your hearts to the rejected hearts,” Liou, who will attend the University of Virginia, said to her peers. “To open your eyes to the deserted eyes, to open your minds to the neglected minds. All it takes is one word, one gesture, one minute from one individual – you.”
The John Champe honorees were among more than 4,000 high school seniors who composed LCPS' class of 2014.
Retiring Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Edgar Hatrick was on-hand to provide remarks to John Champe's opening class. After reflecting on a LCPS career that has spanned five decades, Hatrick pointed out that some of the first students he taught are now collecting Social Security checks.
Like Liou, the superintendent made a plea to the young men and women: Never pass up the opportunity to be kind, Hatrick said, rehashing the message from a popular commencement address from writer George Saunders at Syracuse University last year.
Being kind, Hatrick said, “will pay huge dividends.” And “always make sure that you give back more than you receive,” Hatrick added. “Make no mistake about it, you have really been fortunate to have been educated here in Loudoun County, Virginia.”
Hatrick called on the students to, in future years, remember the privileges they had in Loudoun County.
“If you find the situation lacking in the community where you eventually live, do something about it,” Hatrick said. “Because you have that power.”
Alanna Dvorak, Times-Mirror Staff Writer
When the Tuscarora High School Huskies class of 2014 collected their diplomas on an unseasonably hot June day, they weren't just closing the chapter on their own high school career, but the first chapter of Tuscarora High School history.
“I refer to them, and they know, as our pure-bred Huskies,” Pamela Paul-Jacobs, principal of Tuscarora, told the crowd and her 431 graduates on June 16. “You have established what it means to be a Husky.”
This year's graduating class was Tuscarora's first four-year class, the first group of students to start at the Leesburg school as freshmen and finish as seniors.
“We were the class that created this school,” said Bailey Jenkins, the school's yearbook editor who was selected as the senior class speaker, an honor separate from valedictorian. “We were the guinea pig class.”
Jenkins recollected with her blue-gowned clad class about selecting the school's color scheme and mascot as middle schoolers and establishing school traditions, like the Tusky tailgate.
Jenkins and Paul-Jacobs were two of several speakers at the event, joined by valedictorian Francesca Santos, who finished high school with a 4.7 GPA, salutatorian Olivia Corso, who was just behind Santos with a 4.69 GPA, and keynote speaker Judge Thomas Horne.
Santos, who will attend the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and hopes to be a missionary, told her classmates about some time she spent volunteering in Woodbridge repairing a family's trailer. She hopes, she told her classmates, that they all will continue to help others as they are able.
“My dream is that we respect the intrinsic value of ourselves and everyone we meet,” Santos said.
Horne told her, “I think the world is going to be a better place because of your efforts.”
Horne, a retired judge and legal mainstay in Loudoun for 40 years, focused the crux of his speech on trust, though he admitted he pared down the oration thanks to the sweltering temperatures.
“Trusting in both yourself and others is one of the most important things in building a relationship,” Horne told the students over the dull roar, which never seemed to quiet, from the spectators. “Believe in yourself.”
The Huskies now move onto the next chapter in this story, one that has 99 percent of the class going on to higher education, either at a two or four-year school. But as the students take the next step in the journey, they can remember the story they started in Leesburg.
Work, honor and strive: Woodgrove graduates first four-year class
Ryan Clancy, Times-Mirror Staff Writer
Work, honor and strive: these are the three words the speakers at Woodgrove's high school graduation left graduates with June 17.
Kelsey Carter, the faculty selected senior speaker, addressed her fellow students and said how the school's motto has affected all students at Woodgrove, whether it be to inspire them, encourage them or even to bore them.
“Work, honor, strive, they mean something to you,” Carter said.
It was Woodgrove's first four-year graduating class, as well as the first-ever graduation in their football stadium.
“It was a milestone,” said Camille Watts, who was there to see her granddaughter graduate.
The football stadium was packed to see the 325 students, 95 percent of which will attend some form of college, graduate.
“It was a festive crowd,” said Watts.
The four-year experience at Woodgrove has given the school a sense of identify and and memory for its students. Carter described her feelings toward the school when walking through it for one of her last times as a student.
“There was a latent and overwhelming sense of nostalgia,” Carter said.
Carter also spoke of the sense of community that has developed among the students over those years.
“They have come to know you and accept you for you,” said Carter. “Your peers have truly become your family.”
Graduation speaker Navy Lt. Cmdr. Meagan Flannigan spoke about achieving her goal to become a naval aviator in order to encourage the students to reach for their goals.
“I had reached a life long goal through hard work and dedication,” Meagan said. “It only takes a second of courage to make a difference.”
And of course, Flannigan ended her speech with the three words so important to Woodgrove High School.
“Work, honor, strive and always dream big,” Flannigan said.