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STEM grads make history

Bertie STEM High School graduates were in the spotlight on Saturday morning during commencement exercises held in the school gym. Contributed Photo by Brent Todd

WINDSOR – Four years ago Bertie County Schools made a bold move.

The school district opened the Bertie Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) High School and gave students the opportunity to try education outside the confines of the traditional Bertie High School.

Saturday morning, the first 58 graduates of the school received diplomas as they finished their high school education and began preparations for life in college or in the military.

As part of the school’s first graduation exercise, Robin Marcus, the Program Director for STEM Education at the North Carolina New Schools Project, discussed the choice made four years ago by Bertie County School.

Marcus talked about the beginning of the STEM School when Bertie County was facing difficulties.

“Five years ago barely half of the students at Bertie High were scoring proficient on basis tests,” she said. “Fewer than 75 percent graduated high school.”

Marcus said Bertie County Schools had an option at that time.

“This community could have made excuses,” she said. “Instead of making excuses, this community made a commitment to your education and your future.”

Marcus reminded the students of the commitment of Bertie STEM High School Principal G. Fisher Mitchell to their education and the work of the teachers who had educated them over the past four years. She also reminded them that STEM was the first Honor School of Excellence in Bertie County.

“Rather than closing doors, doors have been open for you,” Marcus told the graduates. “The best part of the story is that you will continue writing it.”

In addition to Marcus, graduates also heard from the school’s first Valedictorian – Lauren Leigh Cuttino – and the first Salutatorian – Riketta Rakel Norfleet.

Cuttino told her classmates how proud she was and took a stroll down memory lane as she recalled their four years together.

“I could not even begin to tell you the pride I feel as I look out on you all,” she said. “Thank you for doing me the outstanding privilege of being part of my life.”

Norfleet reminded the class of their bond.

“We have been through a lot, but we have been through a lot together,” she said.

The program began with a processional in which program participants, the Class of 2011 and their parents entered the gym.

Bertie County Commissioner Charles L. Smith, a retired educator, then sang the National Anthem before Class of 2011 member Justin Robert Byrum gave the Invocation.

Bertie County Board of Education Chair Gloria Lee welcomed students, staff, parents and guests to the graduation exercises.

“It gives me great pleasure to stand before you and welcome you to this celebration,” Lee said. “You are all part of a historic event as we celebrate the first graduating class of Bertie STEM High School.”

She also exhorted the graduates to continue to push for excellence.

“To the Class of 2011, continue to strive for higher heights,” Lee said. “Remember your family and the staff of Bertie County Schools will be here to support you.”

Bertie County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Debbie Harris-Rollins congratulated those earning their diplomas.

“It is my distinct delight and joy to bring you greetings this morning as we celebrate with you,” Dr. Harris-Rollins said.

She also told the graduates to keep pushing and that they should make a difference in life.

“You can’t get to the top by sitting on your bottom,” she closed.

Musical selections were sung by Tameakia Nicole Lee (Class of 2011) and Diana Hoggard (parent).

Dr. Karen Ray and Dr. John Hill, History Club Advisors, presented the candidates for graduation and Mitchell conferred the diplomas on the 58 students.

In addition to Cuttino and Norfleet, several other students graduated as North Carolina Scholars or were honor graduates.

North Carolina Scholars included Cuttino, Norfleet, Kannique Jabraeya Barnes and Holley Noel Harrison.

Honor graduates included Barnes, Cuttino, Norfleet, Harrison, Brianna Simone Berryman, Fontasia Shonte Cherry, Justin Jamaya Harmon, Lester Earl Heckstall, Shaquandra Monique McPherson, Jack Cornelious Nicholson II, Nashae Tatianna Norris, Kevin Anthony Purvis, Ebonie Catherine-Symone Smallwood, Martynez O’Neal White, Jaquille Daiyonn Williams and Tia Mone Woolard.

Marshalls for the first graduation exercise included Joella Maria Quiroz (Chief Marshall), Tina Michelle Brown, Savannah Hope Harvey, Stephen Carter Hoggard, Monisha O’Kema Holley, Lakiisha Denise, Lee, Tyia Alis Mills, Zachia Nazarenia Sweet-Newkirk, Victoria Leigh Outlaw and Carmen Margarita Villamore.

Graduation exercises for the initial class of the Bertie STEM High School were held in the school gym.