Published 12:00 am Friday, June 7, 2013

KANNAPOLIS – Every year’s graduating class brings something a little different to the table … or, to use the metaphor this year’s keynote speaker chose, to the game.
A.L. Brown High School’s class of 2013 – a record-breaking 335 graduates, according to school officials – will be remembered for their generosity and their desire to work in the community, Principal Kevin Garay said.
At the end of Garay’s fourth year as principal, “I feel like I got to know this class best,” he said, “because I was here the whole time they were here.”
In their own ways, Garay said, the class of 2013 made Kannapolis better.
“They started a food pantry, implemented it on their own,” Garay said – a food pantry that he said serves families of needy elementary school students.
They also collected over 20,000 pounds of food during this year’s annual “Bell Game,” the football rivalry between the A.L. Brown Wonders and the Concord Spiders.
The class of 2013 is also academically competitive, Garay said.
As they lined up to enter the auditorium, graduates did all one would expect: snapped pictures, waved, and joked around.
But they were also contemplative.
Caleb Falls, 18, is heading to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall. He plans to major in sports journalism.
The son of Jane and Sam Falls of Kannapolis, he looks back on playing baseball, helping start the school’s Spirit Club and service as vice president of Beta Club.
“This is exciting,” Falls said, as he stood in line waiting for the processional to begin.
“It’s my last time being here in school … seeing people for the last time.”
But, he said, he looks forward to what lies ahead.
So does Melanie Bush, 18, daughter of Louise Bush and Tom Bush.
She’s going further from home, studying studio art at the State University of New York in Buffalo.
“I’m probably going to focus on digital media, with the way things are going,” Bush said.
She said she’s excited to be going out on her own.
One of the things she won’t miss about high school, Bush said: “Getting up at 6:30 in the morning!”
She’s already got her schedule worked out for college this fall: “My first class isn’t until 9:50, so I’m doing okay!”
Joshua Caldwell, 18, said he’ll be attending Elizabeth City State University to study parent and child development.
Caldwell, son of Lottie Williams of Kannapolis and James Caldwell of Concord, said he’s still working on his career plan.
He said he’s thankful for the teachers at A.L. Brown who not only taught him, but helped him to mature.
“The teachers are pretty hands-on, there when you need them,” Caldwell said. “Most of the time you just have to ask for help, and they’ll give it to you.”
He particularly mentioned Lisa Emerson, his geometry teacher.
“She really helped me with my attitude a lot, she helped me calm myself for the real world, and to learn to listen more,” Caldwell said.
Many students nodded when they were asked if jobs and college debt had played a role in their planning process.
The class of 2013 enters a job market that’s only beginning to recover, and a college market that’s feeling the effects of lending cuts and budget pressure.
Steven Atwell, 17, said he’s going to King’s College this fall.
While he hopes to eventually become an architect, Atwell said he first plans to seek a two-year degree in graphic design.
“Once I get my associate’s, I want to go UNCC,” Atwell said.
After UNC-Charlotte, he hopes to find a career – most likely in the Charlotte region, Atwell said.
He said he’s not worried about finding a graphic design job, “but in architecture the unemployment rate is pretty high,” Atwell said.
Still, he remains positive – and ready to be out on his own, Atwell said.
Keynote speaker Amy Privette Perko, an A.L. Brown alumna of the class of 1983, reflected on her years of playing basketball for Wake Forest in her remarks.
The same lessons that can help a successful basketball player, Perko said, can also help students as they go into the world.
Focusing on the goal. Putting forth effort. Following through.
“Each one of you has special talents and passions,” Perko said. “Some of you know what those are, some of you have yet to discover them.”
But no matter what, the time has come for the class of 2013 to take their best shot.
Pam Cain, superintendent of Kannapolis City Schools, said she had a chance to get to know members of this year’s graduating class personally, and has no doubt that they will make their mark.
“There’s a real sense in this group of helping other people,” Cain said.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.