The Ocracoke School 2021 graduates are Parker Gaskill, Russell Stevens, Hannah Belch, Alexander O’Neal, Christian Trejo, Mason Fuller and Dylan Esham. Photo by Casey Robertson

By Taylor Fuller

After a long and tough year, the Ocracoke School senior class of 2021 will receive their diplomas without social distancing or the audience in cars.

The ceremony for the seven seniors will be at 5 p.m. Sunday, June 6, at the Books To Be Red lawn.  The rain location will be in the Ocracoke School gym.

Claudia Lewis, the seniors’ former second-grade teacher, will be the commencement speaker.

Being displaced from their original classrooms for over a year, these past two years has been tough for the students.

“I’m thankful for all that the community and teachers have done during this tough time, but I am definitely ready to start a new chapter,” said senior Mason Fuller, who is the class salutatorian.

The seniors were unable to go on the school trip to Washington, D.C., have a senior prom or homecoming, and they missed out on two seasons of many sports due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19.

The seniors have had it particularly rough when the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent restrictions followed almost directly after Hurricane Dorian flooded the island on Sept. 6, 2019, devastating the school, homes, businesses and vehicles.

That disaster, which postponed school for six weeks left the seniors and the rest of the student body working from their computers at home for almost two years.

Although the now-repaired gym might be used for graduation due to rain, it has not been used for the last two years and the seniors were unable to have their last high school sports seasons in their home gym.

“In all honesty this year sucked,” said Hannah Belch, the only female in the class. “Between close friends moving away, COVID, and dealing with the aftermath and rebuilding of Dorian it was not the senior year I expected or wanted. I was glad for the opportunities I did have and the people who helped to make this the best year it could be.”

Principal Leslie Cole acknowledged the unusual hardships.

“They have had a rough two years, but they never gave up,” she said. “It’s been very challenging, but they pushed through and I’m so proud of them. I wish them all the best and will miss them so much. It’s a great group of kids.”

During the ceremony, along with their diplomas, the graduates will be given scholarships and other awards.

Class valedictorian Dylan Esham will attend North Carolina State University to study business.
Hannah Belch will attend Elizabeth City State University to study kinesiology.
Russell Stevens is headed to Western Carolina University to study business or economics.
Parker Gaskill will attend Cape Fear Community College.
Christian Trejo plans to study biology at East Carolina University.
Alexander O’Neal will go to Martin Community College for mechanics.
Mason Fuller will study business at UNC Wilmington.

The Ocracoke School Class of 2021. Photo: C. Leinbach