Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 13, 2007

By Hugh Fisher
For the Kannapolis Citizen
The march into the auditorium, while “Pomp and Circumstance” plays, is one of the iconic moments of high school graduation.
The wait outside the doors is the hardest part ó and the hottest, as any new graduate of A.L. Brown High School can tell you. The hallway outside the auditorium was filled with excitement and some tears, a little frustration and a lot of hope.
“I’m ready to get out. I’m ready to go to college,” said Erica Benjamin. She and her brother Torrey Benjamin graduated together on Friday.
Looking back on her accomplishments, Erica said she was most proud of her senior project, in which she learned about the culinary arts. She will attend Fayetteville State and plans to major in accounting.
Her brother, Torrey, hasn’t decided where he wants to go. “Possibly Johnson C. Smith,” he said.
“What am I going to miss?” Torrey said. “It’s kind of hard to say. This year was kind of hard for me. I’ll miss the new people I met here, the teachers that helped me.”
He also said he’ll miss the friendships he formed on A.L. Brown’s football team, where he played defensive back.
Alex Edwards also said that sports memories will stand out. The son of Terry and Diane Edwards, Alex played strong safety on Brown’s football team and was centerfielder on the baseball team.
“I’m really anxious, ready to walk,” he said prior to the ceremony. He will attend N.C. State University this fall.
Excitement, nervousness, hope ó those were the sentiments that many expressed, standing in the long line outside the auditorium and waiting for the moment that marked the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.
“I’m really wanting to go into the medical field,” said Erin Fink, daughter of Dale and Cynthia Fink of Kannapolis.
She will be attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall, and plans to major in biology. Erin thinks that by the time she has finished her studies there might be a job waiting for her in Kannapolis.
“Maybe a medical facility will open up when the new research park is built,” Erin said, referring to the N.C. Research Campus.Miranda Freeman will attend Wingate University this fall and plans to become a pharmacist.
Like many students graduating from A.L. Brown on Friday, she wore the green-and-white ribbon and medal that signifies completion of the College Tech pathway, along with the black stole of a cum laude graduate and the blue-and-white tassel of the National Technical Honor Society, of which she was secretary during her senior year. Such awards and achievements stood out on many A.L. Brown graduates’ regalia ó symbolic of four years of excellence and the dedication of both students and educators.
“I’m really excited,” said Miranda, daughter of Gina Freeman of Kannapolis. I’m going to miss my friends a lot, but I’m really excited about graduation.
Dr. Debra Morris, principal of A.L. Brown High School, is never shy about saying just what she thinks of her students. She told them so once again in her remarks from the podium on Friday night.
“I’ve told you many times before, and I’ll tell you again, I love you,” Morris said in her address to graduates.
At the same time, the class of 2007 has impressed her with its achievements.Now in her third year as principal, Morris said that this year’s graduating class has achieved great things.”I don’t know the total amount of scholarship money they have received, but it’s unbelievable,” Morris said.
She named a list of graduates who have received honors and awards. That list includes Cherish Williams, A.L. Brown’s first recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship.
The scholarship was founded in 1999 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and will fund Williams’ college education.
The list includes Ben Lambert, who has been appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
And the list goes on.
“To me, that’s very telling of our senior class,” Morris said.
“We’re so very proud of all of them,” said Dr. Jo Anne Byerly, superintendent of Kannapolis City Schools.
Two hundred fourteen graduates received their diplomas at Friday’s commencement, and Morris urged them to continue doing what they had already begun ó following their dreams.
“Know that you are a talented, giving, charismatic group of students,” Morris said. “And knowledge is nothing in an individual who does not have compassion.”
She urged the graduating class to think of their place in the world and to be mindful of ways they can help others.
In a slide show played during her address, Morris pointed out the accomplishments of famous people such as Rosa Parks, Anne Frank and Oprah Winfrey next to A.L. Brown students who have volunteered their time and talents to help better the community.
In her address to her fellow classmates, valedictorian Lindsay Schifando encouraged students to thank the teachers who had guided them to this milestone in their lives.
“They truly are the reason for our success,” Schifando said.
She also challenged students to believe in themselves.
“Whatever your definition of success is, I hope you, the class of 2007, will never give up on your dreams,” she said.