By Peter Vankevich
Ocracoke School’s six graduates Sunday evening contributed to many of the achievements the school garnered this academic year.
One of the smallest public schools in North Carolina (pre-K to 12th grade has 168 students), it gained a lot of attention by obtaining an A rating by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). This was the highest rating for any school on the Outer Banks and mainland Hyde County.
The small pool of potential players, only a total 42 students for varsity sports, beat many much larger schools and played competitively when they lost.
Both salutatorian Lucy O’Neal and valedictorian Kathryn (Katie) O’Neal thanked the school staff, the island community and their parents that have made the graduates and the school, in general so successful. Katie concluded her remarks by citing General Colin Powell, “Do the right thing, even when you get no credit for it. Do the right thing when no one is watching or will ever know about it. You will always know.”
Delivering the commencement speech was George Ortman, who served as school principal from 2004 to 2010. He had strong recollections of each of the graduates and noted through his interactions the strong points of each student.
“What is our raison d’etre (French for being reason to be be)?” he asked.
Ortman noted a student who once asked a famous professor, what is the meaning of life, and got a reply that included a story about a young person in post-war Germany who found a shattered mirror and used a piece of it to shine light into dark places and he encouraged the students to shine a light onto important areas that are not normally seen as advice to them for the future.
Current principal Walt Padgett, noted that Ocracoke students are the valuable resource of the community. He singled out the four girls who put Ocracoke on the map in sports, not just for their athleticism but for their leadership and that applies to all six graduates in many areas and he noted each of the graduate’s accomplishments as students and their community activities, and what he expects from them in the future.
“I’m proud of each of these students,” he said.
The Ocracoke School graduating class has a tradition of giving a Community Service Award. For the first time, the award was not given to a person, but to the Ocracoke Youth Center board of directors, its members and the many volunteers who helped complete the community park and baseball field.
Graduate Hunter Collins, who announced the award, related the effort over the last few years to make the new park at the end of Maurice Ballance Road a reality.
“(The park was) made possible by many voluntary hours from a multitude of people,” Collins said.
Padgett, Assistant Principal Leslie Cole and Superintendent of Hyde County Schools, Dr. Randolph Latimore awarded the diplomas.
Five of the graduates will go on to further education and Hunter Collins will join the Air Force. Abigail Morris who received a cross-country scholarship will enroll in the dental hygiene program at Louisburg College. Lucy O’Neal and Samantha Styron will attend East Carolina University. Lucy will enroll in nursing and Samantha, physical therapy. Katie O’Neal heads to NC State where she intends to major in education with an emphasis on geography. Hunter Belch who completed his studies in December with honors, will attend Martin County Community College.
The class of six received a total of approximately $82,000 in scholarships. Katie O’Neal received $24,200; Lucy O’Neal received $22,121; Samantha Styron received $18,249; Abigail Morris received $14,100 and Hunter Belch received $3,500.
Julie Howard provided the music for the ceremony.