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Smithfield graduates 339

The 115th annual Smithfield High School Commencement Exercises sent the Class of 2021 into the next phase of life June 12 with reflections on little moments, big achievements, key skills acquired and unforgettable relationships.

Due to inclement weather, the graduation was moved from its originally planned outdoor venue of Packer Field to the indoor venue of Liberty Live Church in Hampton.

In the program for the ceremony, 339 graduates were recognized as comprising the Class of 2021.

“We made it,” Michelle Endrusick said to open her valedictory address.

She said she wanted to use her speech to remember the last four years “and all the unforgettable relationships we have made with our classmates and teachers.”

“While ultimately high school is about preparing you for college, the relationships you form along the way teach you what you can’t learn from a textbook — how to support and understand each other,” she said. “This is a priceless lesson that is key for any career or future you plan to pursue in the following years.”

She used herself as an example.

“I, for one, used to be the quiet kid in the corner of class who would be forgotten about and marked absent because I was too scared to stand up for myself,” she said. “Now here I stand before all of you, and I have friends, family and teachers to thank for it.”

She urged her classmates to remember to trust their gut and stand up for what they believe in.

“I would also like to take a minute to remember that even among all of these fond memories, we dealt with heartbreak and tragedy as we overcame a global pandemic and the loss of friends and classmates,” she said.

During the presentation of diplomas, the school, including its students, teachers, administrators and band, gave special recognition to the late Austin Vincent McMillian, who tragically passed away March 31. Accepting his honorary diploma were his sister, Kayla McMillian, and his brother, Carson McMillian.

In her salutatory address, Annika Eng paid tribute to her family.

“It is important to note that we did not take this journey alone,” she said, recalling her own path. “From math tutoring, to enthusiastic support at recitals, to car rides from New Jersey to Tennessee, my family’s encouragement has prepared me for the next steps of my journey. Thank you.

“And Mom, it’s time to delete the PowerSchool app and stop ‘motivating’ me about my grades,” she added, to notable laughter from the crowd.

Next, Eng thanked the Class of 2021’s teachers.

“Truly, you never gave up on us as you guided us to success,” she said. “Your standards are high, and that builds exceptional thinkers, readers, writers, mathematicians, builders, chefs, nurses and scientists.”

In closing, she shared a quote from the series finale of the American version of the TV show “The Office.”

“‘I wish there was a way to know that you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them,’ aptly stated by Andy Bernard in ‘The Office,’” Eng said. “We’re leaving our good old SHS days behind, but we’re better people and citizens for our time here.”

As Senior Class President Samantha Soloman pondered what to talk about in her remarks, she said she found herself focusing on the little things that accumulate to form an entire high school experience, noting that everyone has their own little things.

“As different as each of the particularities of our time here might be, we’ve been in a system that was designed to give shared experiences,” she said. “We’ve collectively dodged hall sweeps our freshman year, struggled through the same Algebra 2 curriculum and rejoiced when snow was in the forecast and we answered the phone to, ‘Hello, this is Lynn Briggs calling from Isle of Wight County Schools.’

“I once happened upon a concept that has stuck with me ever since,” she continued. “It reads, ‘Nothing is truly isolated, no man an island, no event inconsequential.’ Within our class, we have talents ranging from robotics to singing, state champion teams ranging from basketball to debate, but despite our differences, our experiences and interactions are so interwoven.”

She said memories will now serve to continue uniting Smithfield’s Class of 2021.

Denise Tynes, vice chair of the Isle of Wight County School Board, congratulated the class and let them know they are starting out fresh now.

“You successfully survived and defeated the pandemic,” she said. “You did not allow it to define who you are. It’s people like you who can go out into the world and make a difference.”

She noted how she could identify with the class of impending graduates, having graduated from Smithfield High School herself 46 years prior.

She said many things have changed since she was a student at the school.

“But one thing that I know for sure is that no matter where you go in life, you will always be part of Isle of Wight County Schools,” she said.

She closed by saying, “Be the change. I wish you joy and happiness. We always will love you.”

Joel Acree, the Windsor District representative on the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors and a Smithfield alumnus of more than 30 years ago, offered his congratulations to the Class of 2021 and its members’ families.

“To the Class of 2021, I’m optimistic that your hard work over the last 12 years has prepared you for the next chapter of your life,” he said. “Enjoy this next chapter of your life, but please take time for family, friends and your community.”

Right before the presentation of diplomas, Smithfield Principal Bryan Thrift shared a message with the graduating students.

“For all of you as you take off your caps and gowns that you’re wearing today, your tassels and diplomas you take home, remember this — the diploma you receive today is your insurance policy, with the premium paid in full by your hard work over the past 13 years,” he said. “The value of that policy depends on how much effort you put into your education and what you want to do with it as you go on.

“Use it, take advantage of it,” he continued. “Statistics show that your high school diploma is your passport to higher earnings and protection against tough economic times. It is not a guarantee, but it will always be a help.”

Joseph Barrett Ferguson was the recipient of the Thomas Cofer Scholarship, which is a one-time $10,000 award offered each year to a graduating senior at Smithfield High School.

Thrift explained that the scholarship was established in memory of Thomas Cofer, a top academic student who died in an accident when he was a junior at Smithfield.

“The selection of this scholarship winner is based primarily on academic and community achievement,” Thrift said. “It considers character, leadership and academics. It also considers service to others, service in the community, and is suitable for the future of that person’s education.”

Eng was the recipient of the Nicole White Scholarship, which Thrift noted is a $5,000 scholarship awarded to a Smithfield High School student who exemplifies the qualities of leadership and volunteerism.

“The scholarship is different from most because it places more merit on one’s service to the community and the impact the service has in the community,” Thrift said.

Nicole White was among 32 Virginia Tech students and faculty who tragically lost their lives April 16, 2007.

“In the spirit of her commitment to volunteering in the community, the Nicole White Memorial Scholarship was created,” Thrift said. He later added, “The White family, Dominion Power, YMCA, friends, business owners, Virginia Tech alumni and members of the community donate money to create a full, endowed fund.”