By Connie Leinbach
It’s not every day that the person who cuts your hair is your high school commencement speaker. But then, Ocracoke isn’t like anywhere else. It’s a place where the person who cuts your hair can get to know you almost as well as your parents.
Susie Kennedy, who owns and operates Halo Hair, the only hair salon on the island, has a special relationship to the nine students who were graduated Sunday evening June 12 in a ceremony held outdoor on the grounds of Books to be Red. Kennedy and the other commencement speaker, Karen Lovejoy, have been part of the students’ lives for many years in their capacities with the now-dormant Ocracoke Youth Center.
Lovejoy was the director and Kennedy is a board member and was Teen Night coordinator.
Their dual speech was personalized to each student in a way no commencement speaker in a school with even 20 graduates could do, as they enumerated each student’s strengths.
In addition, as the ceremony was open to the public, various members of the community with ostensibly no ties to the students attended along with several underclassmen–something that’s also unheard of in large schools who must limit attendees to a handful of each student’s family members.
In a small place like Ocracoke, adults often mingle with young people in a variety of settings and thus get to know them. This is what makes the community of Ocracoke so special, noted class valedictorian, Joseph Franklin Chestnut, whose speech focused on “community,” and how on Ocracoke, the school is the center of the community.
Joe noted that he had come with his family to Ocracoke when he was in the first grade.
In an interview last fall when the Youth Center was realizing it had to drastically wind down, possibly cease, its after-school operations due to all the students attending the after-school 21st Century grant program, Joe’s father, Bob, who owns the Surf Shop and is the Youth Center board president said this unique setting beckoned the family.
“The reason we moved here was to be able to spend time Youth Center board president said this unique setting beckoned the family.
“The reason we moved here was to be able to spend time with my kids,” Bob had said. ”In the outside world parents aren’t home. Here, I can go fishing after school with my kids.”
And Joe, along with his classmates, has excelled in this environment, which shows in his receipt of the $30,000 London scholarship, an academic honor that has not been awarded in a few years.
Joe, who is headed to George Washington University, also received the Farm Bureau, $300, and Beta, $1,000, scholarships.
School principal, Dr. Walter Padgett, who awarded the diplomas, along with school superintendent Dr. Randolph Latimore, noted that the students attending college received more than $200,000 in scholarships from those colleges, in addition to the community scholarships awarded.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming here to this island school,” Padgett said in his remarks. “Living on Ocracoke is stepping back to the days when school is the center of the community. Respect for self and education are taught at home here.”
And, graduation was not just all about the students. They themselves gave a Community Service Award, as they have for several years, to someone in the community who has worked behind the scenes for community betterment.
This year, the students gave this honor to Earl O’Neal, whose involvement in the community has been extensive.
Class Salutatorian Devynn Lorelle Mager also addressed the group and revealed that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year. Not one to let that stop her, Mager plans to attend Wingate University in the fall. She received the Ocracoke School PTA Scholarship of $500.
The other graduates and their awards are as follows:
Meiraf Selam Zekaryas, who moved to Ocracoke last year, received a $10,000 scholarship from the State Employees’ Credit Union (People Helping People Scholarship). She will attend the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Ronnie Van O’Neal, III, who will attend Tidewater Community College, received the Class of 1982 scholarship in the amount of $2,140. He also received the Beveridge and Mayo Scholarship, $500
Madeleine O Payne received the $2,500 National County Courthouse Scholarship from the Hyde County Commissioners. She will attend Appalachian State University.
Jeremiah Cody Smith will be working fulltime.
Chante Lynna Mason will attend Pitt Community College. She received a $1,000 scholarship from the Ocracoke Assembly of God Church as well as the Ellen Holloday Scholarship, $750; Ocracoke Invitational Fishing Tournament Scholarship, $500; Ocracoke Variety Store, $250.
Petra Jasmin Flores will attend Beaufort Community College. She received the $2,700 Greg and Eden Honeycutt Scholarship (through the Ocracoke Community Foundation).
Mitchell Jovanny Ibarra, who will attend Pitt Community College, received the following scholarships: Anonymous in memory of Charlotte Castro, $1,000; Ocracoke Variety Store, $250; Wells Fargo, $750; David Ondrovic, $50.