325 seniors graduated from West Ashley High on June 19

by Donald Newton | contributing writer
photos by Tumbleston Photography & Donald Newton

Goooood morning, Wildcats!!’ A familiar cry rang out on the football field in Wildcat Stadium on Saturday, June 19 as the “Voice of West Ashley”, senior Stella Wood, kicked off this year’s commencement ceremony as she spoke to her classmates one last time. This year Wood made the morning announcements each day, updating everyone on the school’s happenings. “The memories we made will never be forgotten,” stressed Wood. “Even though High School Musical was nothing like high school, they did get one thing right. Once a Wildcat … always a Wildcat!”

This year, 325 students graduated from West Ashley High School in a Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, June 19th and are ready to take on the world. They are going to continue their education at the post-secondary level, serve in a branch of the military, go straight into the workforce with a job, apprenticeship, or internship, or play a sport in college while they continue their education.

“The Class of 2021 set such a positive tone for the school year,” said WAHS Principal Ryan Cumback. “They were the leaders that everyone in this building needed them to be. They partnered with us throughout the year and served as role models for the rest of the student body. Their leadership, composure, and maturity will forever define this extraordinary group of students.”

Earlier in the week Cumback asked his staff to describe this year’s graduating class in one word. They responded with words such as grit, accomplished, flexible, buoyant, optimism, survivors, persistent, tenacious, and courageous. The most prevalent word used to describe the Class of 2021 was resilient. No matter what they faced, the senior class never gave up. They rallied with that notable Wildcat Spirit and banded together to make this the best year possible under these sometimes challenging circumstances.

“My fellow graduates, it is my hope that during your time here, during this time of isolation and reflection, that you found your purpose,” said valedictorian Katie Fulmer. “And wherever your path takes you after today, whether that be the armed forces, higher education, or straight into the workforce, I encourage you to never stop learning, actively seek out your passions, expand your mind through reading, and listen to others. It will change your life!”

This year the valedictorian and salutatorian both earned a weighted grade point average over 5.0. Fulmer plans to attend the College of Charleston in the fall where she plans to study Marine Biology. While at West Ashley High, she made a lasting impression and was well respected by her teachers and peers. Fulmer was a Board Scholar, the Vice President of the National Honor Society, and a Teacher Cadet. She has a weighted GPA of 5.272.

Krista Stewart, the 2021 salutatorian, will attend The University of South Carolina Honors College to study Biomedical Engineering. She was a member of the National Honor Society, the Student Government Association, and was a player on the Women’s Varsity soccer team. Stewart serves her community by volunteering with organizations such as the local food bank, the Charleston Miracle League, and was the campaign manager of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She ended her high school career with a weighted GPA of 5.192.

Both the valedictorian and salutatorian emphasized to their classmates how essential it is that they find their place in this world. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted everyone in different ways and they both chose to find the positive out of such trying circumstances.

“I would like to stress the importance of deeply reflecting on yourself, knowing yourself, and learning your passions,” said Stewart. “Live a life that you want to live, not a life that anyone else tells you that you should want to live. Listen to your heart and act on what it tells you. Act in a way that is authentically you. Live, laugh, and play in a way that feels true to your identity.”

Each year at graduation, there are a number of awards given out to students who have gone above and beyond academically during their time in high school or have been chosen by their classmates or teachers because of their dedication and enthusiasm for West Ashley High. Recipients of the PTSO Honor Pin maintain an overall grade point average of 4.0 or higher. This year 76 students qualified for this award. Of those students, 48 were also named Charleston County Board Scholars, which means they earned an overall grade point average of 4.25 or higher over the past four years.

Six students received the South Carolina Academic Honors Award which means they received a minimum grade of “B” for each semester course in grades 9 – 12 and achieve either a score of 710 or higher on the SAT Verbal, 690 or higher on the SAT Mathematics or a combined score of 1400 or higher OR a score of 30 or higher on the ACT English, a score of 33 or higher on the ACT Mathematics or a composite score of 31 or higher. The recipients of this year’s award are Macallister Boatman, Kinsey Carney, Katie Fulmer, Khue Nguyen, John Stadalsky, and Krista Stewart.

The Rufus E. German Citizenship Award is given to the senior who exhibits true leadership qualities during his or her four years at West Ashley High. As an outstanding leader, this person has promoted the welfare of the school and community, and has a keen sense of personal integrity and responsibility.

This year’s recipient, Dejah Parks, is a Board Scholar and was an exceptional leader in our NJROTC program. She was an Executive Officer directly responsible for managing over 200 cadets. Her Leadership Academy Instructor at The Citadel stated that she has “the heart of a lion!” Parks will be attending Trident Technical College in the fall and majoring in Film Production.

The General Excellence Award is given to a senior who the faculty holds in high esteem. The selected student must exhibit academic integrity and have earned a 4.0 or higher, possess leadership skills and have been involved in numerous clubs and extracurricular activities, and displayed overall strength of character.

This year’s recipient, Copeland Johnson, is a member of the National Honor Society, a founding member of the Philosophy Club, a Mechatronics Career & Technology Completer, and a member of our award-winning robotics team. Johnson is also a Board Scholar, a Palmetto Fellows Scholarship recipient, and will be attending Clemson University in the fall to study Chemistry.

Each year the senior class selects one male and one female to be honored with the Spirit of West Ashley Award, which recognizes two seniors whose loyalty and enthusiasm for our school are both exceptional and admirable.

This year’s female recipient, Stella Wood, has greatly enriched our school with her cheerful disposition and contagious enthusiasm in the halls and over the intercom on the morning announcements. Wood is a Board Scholar, a member of the National Honor Society, and a Varsity athlete on the cheer and soccer teams. In the fall, she will be attending Ohio University and majoring in Nursing.

This year’s male recipient, Robert Murray, was an active participant and avid supporter of student activities and athletics. This Varsity baseball player could often be found front and center leading the student section and cheering on his fellow Wildcats.

While this year brought a new set of challenges with social distancing, one-way hallways, and masks, the senior class never lost hope. Events that students look forward to their entire high school careers were canceled or shortened — basketball season was reduced to only a few games, Prom was canceled yet again — but that didn’t stop them from working hard and putting everything they had into the events that they were able to attend. Staff and students alike worked hard despite the circumstances to make the most of this crazy year.

“The Class of 2021 is an extraordinarily seamless group of young people with ever-changing priorities,” said School Counseling Director Eyamba Williams. “The top priorities for our staff were to assist students in balancing their social emotional health, academics and keeping up with the distancing guidelines for the sake of safety. The student’s top priorities included continuing to build relationships with their friends, having face to face group chats, and maintaining some semblance of the snapshot in time when sitting together at lunch was not interrupted with the constant reminder of not sitting on blue tape. However, they rose to the occasion and still managed to meet deadlines and guidelines for scholarships. As of June 21, 2021, the Class of 2021 has earned a grand total of $3,845,521.”

This year’s senior class saw 14 students receive the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship while a number of students earned athletic and fine arts scholarships, as well as monies for specific colleges or universities, and ones awarded by local organizations. Two notable scholarship recipients were Saniyah Drayton and Darius Brown who each received a $180,000 Navy ROTC scholarship. Both scholarships pay full tuition and fees, provide an allowance for books and a monthly stipend of $250 – $400 for four years of college.

Drayton, who received the Navy ROTC National Minority Scholarship, will attend Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University where she will major in Biology and Pre-Med. Brown received the NROTC National Preparatory Program Scholarship and plans to attend Southern University and A&M College in the fall.

As the seniors move on to the next phase of their lives, over 50 students are planning to go directly into the workforce and continue to work for organizations like Harris Teeter and Gildan, some 215 plan to continue their education at the post-secondary level. Over 40 institutions throughout the U.S. and abroad will soon be home to Wildcats. Students like Joshua Pinckney and Ashley Bower will stay close to home and attend the College of Charleston and Trident Technical College while students like Laicee Kersey and Zoe Di Maggio will travel as far as Boston University and Trevecca Nazarene University (TNU) to continue their education.

This year 162 students became completers in one of our 14 Career & Technology course pathways. Many of those students earned state recognized certifications in pathways such as Culinary Arts Management, Nail Technology, and Early Childhood Education. Of those 162 seniors, 28 of them are double completers. “We are so proud of the Class of 2021!” said School Counselor Rebecca Kyzer. “They are career ready and will no doubt make their mark in the world. They have a drive and determination to never give up and it will surely serve them well.”

Students also had the opportunity to partner with Trident Technical College by participating in a Charleston Regional Youth Apprenticeship. These opportunities satisfy graduation requirements, position students to apply for employment opportunities, and help them earn industry recognized certificates. Eight Wildcats qualified for apprenticeships with organizations from Morelli’s Heating and Air (Dominick Gadsden-Thrower – HVAC) to MUSC (Nyasia Graham Shea Held – CNA / Pre-Nuring), and from Hendrick BMW (Noah Myers – Automotive Servicing Technician) to Halls Management / Slightly North of Broad (Carane Hunter – Culinary) these students have been afforded an incredible opportunity to gain real-world experience while they figure out what they want to do with their futures.

Each year West Ashley High’s Athletic Program produces student-athletes who decide to continue their athletic careers while at the post-secondary level. This year eight members of the Class of 2021 sign to play at the next level. Brianna Heffner will bring her enthusiasm to the cheer program at Erskine College where she will study Biology. Robert Murray, this year’s male Spirit of West Ashley, will be attending Florence-Darlington Technical College where he will be studying Business.

The University of South Carolina – Lancaster is set to welcome three Wildcats this fall. Tanner Henderson and Alexander Smalls will play baseball for the institution while Hobie Meekins will join the Men’s Soccer team. Smalls plans to study Athletic Training.

Three other students from the Men’s soccer program signed this year. Jackson Woodham will play for the University of South Carolina – Sumter while Coker University will welcome Jacob DeAntonio who plans to major in Biology / Pre-Med. Carter Blumenstock has signed to play soccer at the Odisea FC Academy in Spain for the next two years before returning to continue his academic and athletic careers at a university in the States.

“This year was not a normal year by any stretch of the imagination but our student-athletes were still able to compete at a high level while following all COVID-19 guidelines,” said Athletic Director Jeffrey Fipps. “Even though some of our seasons were cut short the teams did an outstanding job and competed to the best of their abilities. This year saw our football team finish with above 700% for the season, 7 out of 9 teams finished above 500 in Region play, and senior Tanzania Watson finished third in the 5A Shot and Discus competitions.”

It is a great honor when someone decides to give of themselves and serve their country. This year, six students have enlisted in a branch of the military. The U.S. Navy will see Macallister Boatman, Sayid Hassan, and Seymone Roberson join their ranks. Deyanna Smalls and Anthony Burt enlisted in the U.S. Army while Rigoberto Sandiford Rodriguez and Orion Tyra joined the U.S. Air Force.

“The best thing I can say about the students who decided to pursue a career in the military, whether they did it for college money, to travel the world, or to change their circumstances, they all decided to do something that was bigger than themselves,” said NJROTC Instructor Petty Officer Fred Davis. “The ultimate sacrifice is to support and defend the constitution of the United States for those individuals that you will never know. Bravo Zulu to all who have joined. ‘Fair Winds and Following Seas!’”

West Ashley High closed out it’s commencement ceremony by giving a handwritten note from one of the 185 faculty and staff members to each senior in this year’s graduating class. The staff felt so moved by the Class of 2021 and their dedication, energy, and resilience, that they felt compelled to say how uniquely special each student is. While many staff spoke highly of them throughout the ceremony, it was another thing for the students to read it with their own eyes.

“The way the Class of 2021 handled the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ was admirable and appreciated,” said Senior Class Sponsor Bridget Lee. “They were patient, kind, and cooperative to their teachers and to each other, and we could not have asked for a better group of seniors to lead us through this challenging year. It was extremely moving at graduation to see their maskless, smiling faces. It was a proud moment and a sign of hope for all of us.”

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