A.L. Brown grads take on world of challenges
By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — They go into a difficult world, a world where nothing can be taken for granted.
But members of the 2011 graduating class of A.L. Brown High School have hope, faith and persistence on their side.
The school was packed with friends and loved ones Friday as 291 graduates received diplomas.
They form the largest graduating class at A.L. Brown in at least a decade, and possibly the largest ever, though school officials couldn’t confirm that.
Jackson Boone, this year’s valedictorian, charged classmates to stay positive and persevere, just as they’ve done in high school. “I’m not sure if it’s even possible to put all of the accomplishments of the class of 2011 into one speech,” Boone said.
Scholarships, athletic success, challenges, successes. They have lost classmates who passed away too young, and they have persevered in the face of news about a poor job market.
Boone noted this is the first graduating class to have had the benefit of the school’s Freshman Academy, which works to ready students for the experiences they will face in the four years of high school. “We grew up together,” he said.
Still, he said, the road ahead will be difficult.
“We are no longer living in an age of comfort,” Boone said. “We must be prepared.”
“The only thing that matters is that we stand here united. We made it!”
Principal Kevin Garay said two things would serve this year’s graduates. “It’s a real competitive time, and I think persistence and faith are needed now more than at any time in recent years,” he said.
Kannapolis City Schools Assistant Superintendent Debra Morris was principal of A.L. Brown during the first two years the Class of 2011 spent there.
“I feel like a parent, like a mama to them,” Morris said. “Because you feel like you’ve had a part in getting them to this point.”
She said this year’s class had very academically strong and charismatic students.
“You’re always proud to see them reach this point,” Morris said.
This was the first commencement for Superintendent Pamela Cain, who took over the post from Jo Anne Byerly last year. “We have a class of students who are ready to be 21st-century leaders,” Cain said.
The graduates came to commencement just like thousands of others before them: full of smiles, with some tears and a lot of enthusiasm.
The ones who were interviewed said they would miss their friends, their sports teams and the feeling of being a student at Brown.
As to what they’ll miss the least, it’s a tie between school uniforms and cafeteria food.
The next step is to see what the world has in store.
Some, like David Meyers, are staying close to home.
“He’s going to start at Rowan Tech,” said mother Tammy Meyers, “then transfer to UNC.”
She added that she and her husband, John, are proud of David. “I’m very excited. He’s accomplished a lot,” Tammy said. “David’s got strong beliefs. He’s going to go far.”
Her son said he’s glad to be free from high school. “I’m ready to get out there and see what happens,” he said.
Others will be fighting for freedom, for themselves and their families back home.
Many are planning to join the military. Some, like PFC Jharrod Evans, have already joined. Evans officially graduated from A.L. Brown early, in January, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve. He was able to come back for commencement with the rest of his classmates.
He wore, not a green graduation gown, but U.S. Army dress blues.
With so many uncertainties in the world, this year’s high school graduates will need to stay strong and motivated. So said attorney and A.L. Brown alumnus Jerry Blackwell, the first non-student commencement speaker to address a graduating class recently.
Blackwell’s message: Be ready for hardships and trials, and be bold enough to pursue your dreams. “Focus on developing willpower and determination,” he said. “These are divine gifts.”
Illness, loss of jobs and loss of friends and family will happen, Blackwell said. “You succeed in spite of it.”
As their students go off to find further education and work in Cabarrus County and beyond, teachers said they’re going to remember the Class of 2011.
“They are hard workers,” said Raiza Jaines, an English teacher.
“They have a lot of potential for success.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.