By Melody Guyton Butts
DURHAM – You’d never know it from their excited chatter and wide-eyed smiles Saturday morning, but Emily Boaz and Casey Botello got nary a wink of sleep Friday night.
The general sentiment among the two N.C. School of Science and Mathematics seniors – as well as most of their fellow soon-to-be graduates – was that there were simply better things to do in their last few hours together than close their eyes.
Having spent “every single waking moment, pretty much every day” with their classmates at the residential high school, the thought of parting ways is just too much to process, Botello said.
“This school is like nothing else we’ve ever experienced,” she said. “It’s like a family. … The thought of going to different places, it’s pretty shocking. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
Just more than 300 students, who left their hometowns from across the state as high school juniors to pursue advanced studies at the public magnet school in Durham, turned their tassels on an unseasonably cool Saturday morning under the trees of NCCSM’s Watts Lawn.
Chancellor Todd Roberts noted that the Class of 2012 – NCSSM’s 31st graduating class – was the first with whom he’s had the opportunity to spend two years. He urged the students to look back on their accomplishments, like setting a Guinness World Record for their 2011 food drive and winning academic or athletic competitions.
“However, accomplishments are not those only which can be measured by medals and trophies and records, but those things that register deeply in who you are and what you’ve learned,” he said. “Things like picking yourself and dusting yourself off and coming back more determined than ever, having made the first B in your life.”
Bob Ingram, the retired chairman and CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, delivered the keynote speech of Saturday’s ceremony. Raised by a single parent in a small town in downstate Illinois, he said he never imagined that he’d one day lead one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.
From his experience, he outlined four lessons “that no one can teach you – these are the ones you’re going to have to learn yourself.”
The first, Ingram said, is to “make a spectacular mess.” All of the students will undoubtedly make mistakes, but the key to success is in the face that they present to the world in response, he said. The second – something he’s learned through years in the business world – is that, sometimes, “faith trumps analysis.”
The third lesson is for students to follow their passions in life and “march to your own drum.” Ingram, who said his passion was to help people, illustrated this lesson with a story about GSK ensuring that an 11-year-old cancer patient received the anti-nausea drug Zofran. The final lesson, he said, is to be comfortable with oneself.
Also at Saturday’s commencement – which was for the first time live-streamed online for family and friends who couldn’t make the trip to Durham – David Powers of the UNC Board of Governors presented NCSSM English teacher Elizabeth Moose with the Award for Excellence in Teaching, which is presented to a faculty member at each UNC-system school.
Graduate Jeremy DeJournett, chosen through an essay competition to address his classmates, offered an at-times humorous take on the class’s time at NCSSM, from “an awkward junior-senior pairing that you tried to make work because you told yourself you’re going to be such a better senior sibling than yours was,” to “taking a class purely out of interest, even though you know you won’t get AP credit,” to “living two doors down from a Siemens finalist.”
“As we seniors move into a brand-new community next year, as our beloved baby juniors move up to rule the school, there’s no room to brood about regrets you may have,” DeJournett continued. “Instead, push ahead, be your own change and live out your life the way you want to live it.”
© The Herald-Sun