TORTOLA – Cekoi Smith not only graduated with honors on Thursday, but he also made history as the first male valedictorian at Elmore Stoutt High School for nearly a decade.
Smith was among 145 students who graduated in a ceremony held on the school’s main campus, which is now home to a college.
Smith on Thursday described his journey as difficult, as he and his fellow graduates had many obstacles to overcome, including Hurricane Irma. After the September 2017 storm that destroyed the school’s main campus, he faced a three-month delay in starting the school year, adjusting to a system of four-hour split shifts and then Online course in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. .
Despite the many obstacles, Smith – who was also among 60 college credit students and 11 concurrently enrolled at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College – told the Daily News he was inspired by his mother, Aqueelah Frett. She was a valedictorian at Bregado Flax Educational Center in Virgin Gorda 20 years ago.
“I was the promotion major at Ebenezer Thomas Elementary School and wanted to try and get it again,” said Smith, who plans to study computer science and is considering Georgia Tech. “She was a valedictorian 20 years ago, so I challenged myself to get her at ESHS. It means a lot because I had to prove myself.
He noted that it was heartbreaking to see the main ESHS campus destroyed by Irma, but he and his comrades focused on their education. In his remarks, he encouraged his fellow graduates to “keep striving and not stop achieving their goals.”
Like Smith, Salvationian Kaeli Alphonso said her educational journey was stressful as she constantly worried about what her grades would look like.
“But, the stress was worth it and I’m proud of myself for this achievement,” said Alphonso, who has yet to make a choice between science and architecture as a future career and is considering UK universities.
“After seeing Irma’s destruction, my first thought was how are we going to go to school. I was in shock when I saw the school and took a video because I couldn’t believe this was the campus I went to every day and was with friends. It was just flat. I was in total shock. But we came back and persevered.
Principal Venessa Garroway called the 2021 class “talented,” noting that 73 of 145 students, or 52% of the class, graduated with honors.
Sixty-one students earned college credits at the island’s community college, and 11 of them entered college and high school simultaneously.
There were 50 students who took English and math classes in college and three achieved very good honors during three school years, from grades 10 to 12.
“Class of 2021, today you just take a break to celebrate a chapter in your autobiography called life,” Garroway said. “Reflect on how far you’ve come so far, then move on to become a productive citizen of every community you join. “
She urged them to always seek higher power when times are tough.
“As we release you from these walls of Elmore Stoutt High School, I ask you to put God first in everything you do and to thank Him daily. Learn everything. Every moment is an opportunity to learn from everyone around you, regardless of age or title. Stay focused and be aware of your surroundings, ”she said.
Garroway also encouraged graduates to build, maintain, and nurture positive relationships.
“Be open to change and accept your constructive criticism. Identify the parts that will work for you and keep moving forward, ”she said. “Do not run away from your mistakes. If you are wrong, admit it and be honest with yourself, because we learn from our mistakes as well as our successes. “
The keynote speaker for Thursday was Rick Grant. The British Virgin Islands high school graduate in 2001 encouraged the 2021 class to keep climbing no matter what.
Grant recalled the challenges brought on by two floods that hit the school at the start of the semester, as well as Hurricanes Irma and Maria of 2017, and COVID-19.
“Surviving the struggle, unmasking the potential is really the sum of your past, present and future life,” he told graduates. “You have survived the many struggles that have been fought against you. Take what you have learned and apply those lessons in every struggle that arises and will continue to climb the ladder of your life. By doing this, you will increasingly reveal your potential.