HAMLET — When Alison Juarez Padron sat down to write her speech for Richmond Early College High School’s graduation — her mind went blank.
The valedictorian for the Class of 2019 told her fellow graduates she had too many things she wanted to say.
Padron said “the roller-coaster-ride-of-my-life” began at the age of two when her parents decided to leave everything behind “to move to a country where they barely knew anyone, to learn a new language and to start from zero in order to give their baby girl a chance at a better life.”
“Growing up I was like any child with dreams of being a teacher in addition to a ballerina-doctor who goes to the moon,” she said.
When she was 15, Padron said she finally began to realize what it meant to be born in another country and the struggles that come with it.
Padron said her “world began to crumble” with the news of eliminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
But her parents wouldn’t let her give up.
“As a DACA student, it often feels as if your hard work is pointless,” she said. “Aid is difficult to receive and we are charged full out-of-state tuition despite the fact of having lived in the states our whole life.”
Although she had to sacrifice a lot, Padron said it didn’t make make her journey any more important than her classmates’.
“We are all give our own struggles, our own battles,” she said. “I do not know what it cost you to be sitting here with me today.
“Perhaps you did not have someone who supported you, maybe you had a loss in your family, maybe your a from a single-parent household, or perhaps you face inner problems,” she added. “Despite it all, you are here and you have made it this far. You will be faced with many more difficulties, but I believe in every one of you.”
Padron encouraged her fellow students to take advantage of opportunities given, not to forget the importance of gratitude and to humble themselves to all they encounter.
Switching to Spanish, she thanked her parents and told them “… everything I do is to make you proud of me.”
REaCH Principal Joy Smart said Padron and Salutatorian Katelyn Walker were very close friends.
Walker started her speech by thanking several faculty members, her parents and her friends.
“We have shared so many memories together over these past four years that I will cherish for the rest of my life,” she said.
“Our class has seen this school go through many changes and I believe it has only made us better,” Walker continued. “We’re all going to move on with our lives, go our separate ways, some may go to college, some will go straight into the workforce and some even join the military, but we all remember these four years we spent here together – the good and the bad.
“Now let’s go out into the world and show them what some kids from Richmond County have to offer.”
Smart, who is finishing up her second year as principal, said this graduating class was a tight-knit group.
“All of my students are special … they’re really close friends with each other and I hate to seem them go,” she said. “We’re going to miss them greatly.”
Fifty-two of the 56 graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas and 23 of those were North Carolina Academic Scholars.
The students earned either an Associate in Arts, Associate in Science or Associate in Applied Science degree from Richmond Community College. The program also listed if they were in Beta Club, student government, were magna cum laude or summa cum laude or if they had a college or career endorsement.
Smart said there were four students who earned their diploma and associate degree in three years.
“Early college is a great program and it’s a great opportunity for students,” Smart said. “Especially ones that might be first-generation college students.
“Our students are very responsible, they mature very fast,” she continued, adding that they have to because of taking college classes. “Most of them, if not all of them, tackle that head-on and grow into great, great young adults really early.”
After Smart had the students turn their tassels and march out of Cole Auditorium, they met for a class photo before taking photos with each other and family members.
Richmond Early College High School Class of 2019
Fallynn Katarina Andrews
Jael Salvador Aranda
Makaila Jadai Artis
Stephanie Tyler Barrett
Dalton Glenn Bowman
Brittney Elizabeth Brown
Brian Keith Carter
Jonathan Dean Carter
Joshua Ryan Clayton
Miranda Joselyn Cumber
Caitlyn Marie Daniel
Gregory John Dawkins
Jameson Claire Garner
Alexanderia Nikol Giddens
Alissa Marie Gomez
LaMesha Michelle Gould
Jamal William Grace
Benjamin Shane Helms
Sky’liyah Jah’Dell Hinkle
Tayla Elizabeth Howlett
Kerra Leigh Jenkins
Alison Vanessa Juarez Padron
Jordan Marie Lear
Amanda Brooke Leviner
Kayla Michelle Lisk
Nancy Hernandez Lopez
Hayleigh Victoria Marks
Chicaya Dena McDaniel
Preston Claye Miles
Bianca Asucena Najera
Joseph Patrick Navarro
Mercedes Nevaeh Oliveras
Harsh Bhadresh Patel
Aaliyah Tatyana Patterson
Nicholas Alexander Pinto
Hayleigh Sierra Quick
Raegan Noel Robson
Onesty Cyler Rush
Madelyn Grace Shepard
Shirley Emma Sims
Aaliyah Nicole Smith
Jonah Warren Smith
Serenity Vernise Sturdivant
Debrah Jazira Torres-Flores
Alexandria Paige Treece
Michael Scott Vandermast
Katelyn Hannah Walker
Kyra Lee Wall
Taliah Charnae Wall
Brian Lee White
Mycah Cameron Wilson