The Smithfield-Selma High School gym filled with cheers and shouts Friday as more than 260 seniors graduated.
The ceremony, about an hour long, gave each student the chance to walk in front of family, friends and classmates for the awarding of diplomas.
Dressed in blue and gold, the energetic seniors cheered on their classmates as they walked. Afterward, graduate Kymberlee Bailey said when she turned her tassel, she was thinking, “Are we really doing this? Are we really doing this now?”
The weeklong threat of afternoon thunderstorms moved the ceremony inside from the football stadium, though the rain held off until much later in the day. People who no longer had a seat could watch the ceremony by video from other rooms.
After the students turned their tassels, they all danced to a handful of songs, including “Wagon Wheel,” “Talk Nerdy” and “Run the World” before ending with “You’ll Be in My Heart.” Then one student walked to the front to hug departing principal Michael Taylor. Soon, a couple of dozen seniors had come to the front to give him group hugs.
In her speech, valedictorian Lilian Faulconer noted that SSS is often cast in a negative light. But students overcame the negativity and challenges to graduate on Friday. “We believe in ourselves, in each other and our school,” she said. “We did more than make it to class. We made a difference in our school and in our community.”
Faulconer said she was proud to be a Spartan. “Senior year,” she said. “It arrived faster than we ever thought possible, and it’s hard to believe it ends tonight.”
Sharon Perez of Smithfield was there with family to watch her youngest daughter, Estrella “Star” Perez, graduate. “She’s accomplished a lot in her life while working two jobs,” Perez said before the ceremony. Estrella Perez will next go into the Marines.
“(I’m) very proud of everyone,” her mom said of the class of 2014. “This is a big step in their lives.”
Beverly Adchinson was there to watch her son graduate, Steve Norman III. Just before his senior year, the family moved to Erwin and drove him to SSS every day, she said.
“His education was very important to us,” she said. “(Graduating) really is a gift, not only for him, but it’s a gift for us, that he did not give up.”
After the ceremony, Erika Muñoz of Selma stood with her family outside. “I’m excited,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for this four years.” She paused and reconsidered. “All my life really.”
Muñoz said she couldn’t have done it without the support of her family. As she graduated just minutes before, Muñoz said she was thinking, “We did it!”