Johnson tells Class of 2024: Write your plans in pencil, embrace change and walk with certainty

WORTON — There were lots of accomplishments to highlight on the field in Trojan Stadium on Friday, May 31 as the 142 members of the Kent County High School Class of 2024 celebrated their graduation.

Principal Kris Hemstetter led the 53rd annual KCHS commencement ceremony, this year employing a running theme of the Bruno Mars hit song “24K Magic” to highlight how bright the Class of 2024 shines.

“Just as 24-karat gold is the purest form of gold, each of you holds a unique and invaluable potential,” Hemstetter said. “You’ve been polished by your experiences, your education and your perseverance. Now, it’s your time to shine.”

Valedictorian Ben Loller will be heading to Brown University this fall to study computer science, while Salutatorian Madison Messick earned a full four-year scholarship to the University of Maryland, College Park, where she intends to major in environmental policy.

Those are just two of the many accomplishments Hemstetter listed from the Class of 2024.

There were increased numbers of students who achieved dual-completer status for finishing a Career and Technical Education pathway; of students taking Advanced Placement classes and exams; of students earning dual enrollment credits through classes at Chesapeake College and Washington College; and so much more.

Looking to their immediate future plans, 70% of the class will be attending a two- or four-year college or trade school, 26% of the class will be entering the workforce and 4% have enlisted in the military.

“As you venture into new territories — be it college, careers, workforce, military or other pursuits — never forget the power of your authenticity,” Hemstetter told the class. “It’s your genuine self that will open doors, forge connections and create lasting impact.”

Superintendent Karen Couch offered her remarks in a video message because she was attending her grandson’s high school graduation in Howard County.

Couch spoke about the immense pride and enthusiasm she has for the graduating seniors, many of whom she has known since she arrived in Kent County at the start of their second-grade year.

“Graduates, as you stand on the threshold of new beginnings, remember the journey that brought each one of you here today,” she said. “With those first uncertain steps in our hallways to this moment of time, you have demonstrated resilience, passion and dedication to excellence.”

Couch said the Class of 2024 “embodies the best of our values: integrity, resiliency and a commitment to learning.”

“You’re not just graduates, you are the future, ready to make your mark on the world,” she said. “My heartiest of congratulations goes out to the Class of 2024. May your futures be bright, your lives full of joy and your contributions meaningful.”

This year’s graduation speaker was Darius Johnson, a member of the KCHS Class of 2011 and now the Digital Justice Fellow at Washington College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

He spoke to the students about the importance of finding their own paths to success. He said that if he had followed other people’s vision of success, he wouldn’t be happy.

“In this next chapter, each of you must define what success means for you,” he said. “Write your plans in pencil, embrace change and walk with certainty, even if people doubt you, or if you doubt yourself. I’m here to tell you that you’ll be alright.”

In addition to being the Class of 2024 salutatorian, Messick has served as a student member of the Kent County Board of Education and the Citizen Advisory Committee as well as in the Maryland Student Page Program of the General Assembly.

She spoke about how the Class of 2024 “navigated through a whirlwind of experiences, challenges and triumphs” and persevered in the face of hardships.

She said each member of the class has unique talents and urged them to use those “to build a future that reflects the values of compassion, empathy and equality.”

“May your futures be as bold and brilliant as the people I know you are today,” Messick told her classmates. “Together, let us continue to change the world by simply being ourselves.”

Loller, who among his extra-curricular activities also has served on the Citizen Advisory Committee and been a member of the KCHS coding team, used a metaphor about three skiers in his speech.

He said the first skier is focused on the trees and ice patches — the obstacles in the way to success.

For the second skier, Loller said, it is all about the path.

Loller said the third skier failed to set the alarm clock and never made it to the mountain. “I believe there have been times when we could all relate to him,” Loller quipped.

He encouraged his classmates to be like the second skier, saying that by focusing on the path they will naturally overcome the obstacles and hardships along the way.

“Stay focused on your goals, stay focused on the destination, stay focused on your experiences. And keep your path forever clear,” Loller said.

Class of 2024 Secretary Jessica Rosanova served as the hostess of ceremonies.

Jaeda Hoxter, Class of 2024 vice president, introduced the platform guests.

Guadalupe Duarte Arellano, Student Government Association president, gave the senior welcome and Ryan Myers, Class of 2024 president, delivered the message to seniors.

Class Historian Melissa Landon introduced Johnson as the guest speaker.

Capping off the commencement ceremony, SGA Secretary Addisyn Litton led her classmates through the turning of their class rings and tassels, announcing them as graduates of KCHS.

As parents and family members and teachers, staff and administrators cheered, mortarboards went flying into the air and the Class of 2024 showed their 24-karat shine, celebrating their graduation from Kent County High School.

Trish McGee, owner and publisher of The Evening Enterprise, is an elected member of the Kent County Board of Education. She did not contribute to this reporting.


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