ROCKINGHAM — As dark clouds glowered high over Raider Stadium, members of the Class of 2018 made last-minute phone calls, exchanged body-slamming handshakes and cracked wise about what they would do when high school finally was over.
There was little else to do till they would be called to line up for graduation at 8, and some of them had been there since slightly after 5. (They had waited 12, 13, 14 years, a few said, and they could wait no more.)
Out on the field, percussion instruments stood waiting for their musicians, chorus members practiced one last time and Principal Jim Butler did part-time duty as fern wrangler, gathering up plants and ringing the stage with them.
This class, Butler said during a momentary lull, was memorable — and not just because 2017-18 was his first year as principal of his alma mater.
“This class,” Butler said, “they’re survivors.
“They went through a change in administration.
“They went through (an infestation of) bats.
“They went through a point where we had no bells working in school,” and no functioning public-address system.
Plus, there were “hot days wanting the air conditioning to work, to ice shutting down school.”
And “here they are,” he said — “400 strong. We’ve thrown a lot of things at ‘em, and they have handled it just like champs.”
The class also logged the highest ACT scores in school history and reaped the highest dollar amount in scholarship offers, Butler said.
But before the ceremony started, all the 400 graduates were was hot and impatient, some fanning one another with their mortar board and others, using fans with their own faces printed in full color.
Oh, and they were jubilant.
“I’ve been waiting 12 years to get out of here,” said Quinten Robinson, who leaned against the chain-link fence surrounding the stadium field starting at approximately 5:15 p.m., then spending the rest of the wait moving restlessly among his dribbling-in peers.
Harold Sessoms, who arrived soon after Robinson, spent a few moments “walking like I got a dress on,” trying to look graceful in his creased polyester gown and professing stage fright.
“I want to be home and back in bed, where I was” all day, Sessoms said.
School counselor Jaque Gregory moved through the crowd, calling out, “Do we need to check your name, baby?” to make sure all graduates were gifted with proper pronunciations when they marched forward to receive diplomas.
Class member Nikkita Bowden waited among friends, mugging for cellphone selfies and swapping congratulations.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I’ve waited all year for this, and I’ve done a lot of hard work to get here.”
She missed most of 10th grade as the result of illness, Nikkita said, and had to cram two years of study into her junior year to be able to graduate on time. But she had done it.
Nearby, Brandon Nifong waxed philosophical.
“The whole year, I thought I was ready for it to be over,” he said. “Now that it’s over, it’s unreal” — because now, he officially has become an adult.
Many of the graduates said they would be moving on to college.
Others will take a small break to celebrate their graduations and then go right back to work.
Trent Leviner, for example, hopes to work for the city of Hamlet or Rockingham water plant, following relatives who have been employed by both cities.
“I am (ready to leave), but I ain’t at the same time,” he said.
And Hunter Terrell said he wanted to work a bit — he works part time now at a chicken restaurant — before he followed his passion.
His aim? To become a Marine sniper.
The Daily Journal was not able to cover all of the graduation ceremony because of early deadlines. The ceremony began at 8 p.m.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]