By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: June 23, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
Williams reflects on final graduation as PG Schools superintendent
PRINCE GEORGE – When put in perspective, from their first day as freshmen to their final day in the classroom, Prince George County High School students spend about a fifth of their life in high school. That represents four years, over 700 days, or well over 5,000 hours of studying, taking tests, and partaking in various athletic and academic extracurricular activities.
All that time built toward last Saturday morning as dozens of Prince George students, joined by friends whose made likely dates back to their first day as freshmen in 2015 and family in the nearby seats prepared to embark on the seconds long journey before them – the walk across the stage to attain their diploma and trek into the next stage of their lives.
Graduation is always a special time and that was the case on the grounds of Prince George High School’s football field, the host venue for Prince George High School’s graduation exercises. One by one, members of the school’s Class of 2019 shared smiles and a few tears as they laid claim to their diploma, a physical representation of their hard work and their ticket to wherever their journey takes them next, be it to post-secondary institutions right in their own backyard, like Richard Bland College, or abroad across America, to trade schools to learn valuable skills critical to keeping this country going, to serving their country as a member of America’s armed forces.
As recent classes before them, Prince George High School’s graduates enter a world that is more familiar to them than ever before thanks to the power of the internet and social media, which connects the world and shrinks the borders of this expansive planet, thus opening the doors to opportunity. That awareness has shaped the class as they embark on their personal journey.
Prince George County Board of Supervisors Chairman Donald Hunter is familiar with that journey, being a product of Prince George County Public Schools and, as graduation approached, he offered a heartfelt congratulations to what will be the county’s future residents, employees, and leaders.
“I am so proud of all these people for graduating from high school in Prince George and it makes it especially proud because I am, too, a graduate of Prince George, as is my son and, hopefully, I have two grandchildren that will be in future years,” he said. “I think we have a grand school system and hopefully we will have even nicer facilities in the future.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Prince George County Administrator Percy Ashcraft as he thought about the years of effort the county’s young men and women put in to reach Saturday’s special moment while also issuing a challenge to them as they transition to their next stage of life.
“I would challenge the graduates to find something they really want to do in a career field,” the county administrator remarked. “And pursue it to the fullest extent, and that doesn’t necessarily mean going to a four-year or two-year college. It can certainly mean a trade.”
Ashcraft continued, “I think there is a sense of urgency among young people now, more than ever, to find their niche because without it, they are going to spend idle years that will be unproductive for them trying to find that. They need to be thinking about that right now.”
As cameras clicked and iPhones snapped pictures of the graduates during Saturday’s ceremony, the rainy period breaking just in time to allow for sunny skies across Prince George, the minds of graduates were likely filled with a myriad of emotions – joy, excitement, even nervous trepidation about the unknown that lies before them.
Sharing in that trepidation for the future was Prince George Schools Superintendent Renee Williams, who oversaw her final graduation in the role as she prepares to retire this summer, a fact she shared as the ceremony approached.
“I’m sure I’m having some of the same feelings as most of our graduates, proud, sad and excited,” Williams detailed. “Looking back over my 47 years in education and all that has been accomplished, I feel a sense of pride. I also feel sadness at leaving behind the wonderful people I have worked with in this division. I have told my colleagues in other localities; I have been blessed with working with such wonderful people in this school division. The teachers, administrators, support staff and the school board have all been supportive and they care about doing what is best for students.
“But just like, our graduates, I too am so excited about and looking forward to the future with all its possibilities,” she said.
Reflecting on their years much in the same way as Williams was class valedictorian Jonathan Fung, who delivered stirring remarks during his speech to his classmates and their families.
“Moments pass, but memories live forever,” he said. “Our memories are what make us unique, separate, and individual. It’s the experiences that shape you, and yet they don’t define you. Each and every day is a day to grow, learn, change, love, and be happy. A new day to be the better you than the day before. I truly believe that the best of your todays, should be the worst of your tomorrows.”
“Things change, friends leave, and life doesn’t stop for anybody, but remember the memories that have brought you thus far, because they are what make you successful,” Fung said. “As I raise my imaginary glass, here is to the nights we can’t take back, friendships that last, and the memories we’ll make. These last few weeks we’ve been so ready to leave, thank you so much Class of 2019 for making it so impossibly hard to say goodbye.”
The hundreds of graduates also took time to honor those who couldn’t be with them at Saturday’s ceremony, holding a moment of silence for students Madison Carter, Dallas Townsend, and fellow graduating senior Trevor Aldridge.
As is common prior to and after graduation ceremonies, nuggets of wisdom are shared with the next generation from those who have come before them. For Ashcraft, he told the Class of 2019 to “walk with flexibility” as they step out into a world made up of millions upon millions of people with unique backgrounds and stories to tell.
“Understand that every individual they meet is different,” he said. “You have to accept people at face value without judgment. Not everyone is like us, not everyone is like the family they were brought up in and not like the state they lived in. We have to accept all the people who come into our presence with an opportunity to learn from them and understand them and not judge them.”
Chairman Hunter offered four thoughts for Prince George’s newest graduates – a simple message that they – and anyone – can take forth into their daily life.
“Don’t get discouraged. Don’t let little things bother you. Don’t hold a grudge. Let God lead you where you need to go and follow His guidance,” the chairman closed.
Williams, who is preparing to wrap up nearly five decades in education, encouraged students to never give up their hunger for learning, no matter where life takes them and no matter what jobs they go into.
“I decided to become a teacher in the 5th grade,” she revealed. “After earning a BS degree in Elementary Education, I began my career in education teaching the 4th grade. Even though I had the ideal job, the desire to continue learning did not cease. My goal was to be the best teacher, so I wanted to increase my knowledge and skills. I participated in instructional workshops and trainings, served on committees, attended conferences and took courses.
“After I earned a Master’s degree, and continued to obtain certifications for several positions in administration,” Williams detailed, “I had the credentials to meet the qualifications for each of the administrative positions I’ve held. It does not matter whether your path is serving our country in the military, joining the workforce at Standard Motor Products, or enrolling in John Tyler Community College, be a lifelong learner.”
“Education is a continuous process. Success is no accident. It is about hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do,” she closed.