More than 350 students recieve their diploma and move on to the next phase of their lives

High school is full of many significant memories like your first home football game, senior prom, and hearing your name announced as you walk across the stage at graduation. The Class of 2018 at West Ashley High School has experienced all of these special moments, while maintaining a high level of excellence. “This class has had great academic success,” said WAHS Principal William Runyon. “Over 50 percent of its members will graduate with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. The Class of 2018 added 45 members to the SAT Wall of Fame with composite scores of 1,100 and above which is the most of any graduating class in the school’s history. Our community should be proud!”

On May 31 WAHS held its graduation ceremony at the North Charleston Coliseum and saw more than 350 students march across the stage, 49 of which were CCSD Board Scholars who graduated with a cumulative GPA of 4.25 or higher.

“To the class of 2018, the 13 years of anticipation is finally over,” said WAHS salutatorian Madison Kessler. “The past four years have been filled with hard work, sleepless nights, and days that dragged on, but today we are able to reflect on all of our hard work and know we made it. We are able to leave holding the memories of supporting our sports teams, creating new friendships, getting ready for prom, fighting through the crowded hallways, and even the struggles we have all faced. In these moments, we have become stronger. But it is now our task to take these memories and newfound knowledge and find our purpose.” This year, Kessler and over 350 of her classmates are well on their way to finding that purpose.

Both the valedictorian and the salutatorian earned some of the highest cumulative GPAs in recent history. This year’s valedictorian, Mary Emaline Stokes, will attend Clemson University in the fall where she will study engineering. During her time at WAHS, she was a part of the Robotics team which competed at the World Championships, the WAHS Swim Team, and the National Honor Society. She was able to do all of this and still maintain a weighted GPA of 5.094.

This year’s salutatorian, Madison Kessler, was a cheerleader, a member of the WAHS Cross Country team, the WAHS Track & Field team, the Vice President of the Interact Club, a finalist at the National SeaPerch Competition, and a member of the National Honor Society. She will attend Clemson University in the fall and major in Biological Sciences. Kessler did all this while maintaining a weighted GPA of 4.965.

The Class of 2018 was made up of a wide variety of students who were gifted academically, athletically, and artistically. Members of this senior class were a part of the Band, Chorus, National Honor Society, Student Government Association, and The Drama Studio. They were a part of the football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, golf, swim, wrestling, track & field, softball, and dance teams (a number of which made the playoffs this year). They were also members of different groups like the NJROTC Air Rifle Team, the Robotics team, DECA, the NJROTC Drill Team, and the skeet shooting team – Clay Busters, which competed at the State, National, and World competitions this year.

This year’s graduating class received a large number of scholarships from various colleges and organizations due to their good grades and high GPAs. Some of the scholarships include the Palmetto Fellows, Life scholarship, Hope scholarships, presidential scholarships, dean scholarships, academic scholarships, athletic scholarships, fine arts scholarships, general scholarships awarded by each college, and of course local scholarships from area organizations.

“To the graduating Class of 2018, as young adults, it is time to put the high school education you earned into action,” said School Counseling Department Director Wayne Stevens. “Go after your dreams, goals and aspirations, moving forward into your adult life. The School Counseling Department is very proud of each and every one of you!”

This year it is estimated that a total of 75 students will go directly into the workforce and approximately 250 students will attend a 4-year or 2-year college. More than 38 college and universities will be gaining former Wildcats in the fall as many students in WAHS’s Class of 2018 plan to continue their education at the postsecondary level. Some students will attend schools close to home like the College of Charleston and The Citadel, while some will travel as far away as Arkansas to attend the University of Central Arkansas or New York City, to attend the New York Conservatory for the Dramatic Arts.

While some teachers shy away from working with seniors, Bridget Lee, one of the Senior Class sponsors, is not one of them. “Many teachers hesitate to teach seniors because of the dreaded ‘senioritis,’ which is definitely real and can be a struggle for all involved; however, there is also a palpable energy that fills the air during this year of ‘lasts,’ which I am so grateful to be a part of,” said Lee. “I get a front row seat as they smile for their senior portraits, as they confidently rise to the challenge of leadership roles, as they earn awards and scholarships, as they draw up the blueprints for their lives, and as they proudly walk across the stage and receive their diploma. It is an honor to be a part of such a momentous year, which is truly a culmination of hard work and a celebration of life.”

“West Ashley was proud to have more than 150 completers representing 16 career majors,” said CTE Department Chair Sandra Pennekamp. “Our students, guidance counselors, and teachers work as a team to ensure that all of our students are college and career ready and possess the skills necessary to be successful at the next level. We wish the best to our graduating senior completers and know that their hard work in their CTE classes has been a valuable investment in their future.”

Sixty-five students completed either an apprenticeship through Trident Technical College or an internship in their field of study. Verge Health Systems recently saw five seniors complete apprenticeships through their organization while senior Thomas Jur completed an internship with Boeing. Students who receive their completer status in Nail Technology are eligible to take the SC State Board assessment. Those who pass, are able to begin work right out as high school as licensed nail technicians. This year, Kaziah Bennett, D’Asia Edwards, and Tamika Wright received their certification.

Ten student-athletes signed to continue their athletic careers while they gain their postsecondary degree. Michael Poulos will play baseball for the College of Charleston while Ashley Jones will travel to New York to play softball for Queens College. Boys Tennis player Stratas Anastopoulo will play for Spartanburg Methodist College in the fall while Daniel Johnson has signed to throw discus as part of the track & field team at the University of South Carolina – Beaufort.

Of those ten, six have signed to play football. Joshua Heyward and Micah Levine are set to go from Wildcats to Tigers next year when they play for Benedict College. SC State University will welcome Jordan Hollinshead to their team. Antonio Fyall will play for St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, NC while William “Jay” Smith will stay close to home and play for The Citadel.

Smith is also the recipient of this year’s General Excellence Award. This honor is bestowed to the senior whom the faculty considers in high regard. This student is also considered to be one who embodies the high school’s E5 Mission statement. They have a unique experience, embrace others and knowledge, educate themselves, encourage others, and empower themselves to succeed.

Myles White, who signed to play football for Allen University, recently competed at the 2018 Track & Field State Championships. He came in 5th in the Boys 100 Meter Dash with a time of 10.84, 3rd in the Boys 4×100 Meter Relay with a time of 42.16, and placed 2nd with a time of 48.70 in the Boys 400 Meter Dash. “I am extremely proud of our young women and men who have gotten athletic scholarships this year,” said WAHS Athletic Director Richard Luden. “Their hard work and determination have paid off. I know they will all represent WAHS well in the next step in their future.”

The Rufus E. German Award is given to the senior who exhibits strong leadership qualities, works to promote school activities, has a sincere respect for others, and has a keen sense of responsibility. This year’s recipient is Haley Bauer.

Another award that is given out to one male and one female during graduation is the Spirit of West Ashley Award. This award, voted on by the student body, recognizes those students who have strong character, exhibit loyalty, enthusiasm, and show great respect for students, faculty, and administration. They go above and beyond in everything that they do and serve as role models to their peers. This year’s recipients were Craig Brown and Megan Clark.

WAHS’s NJROTC program has been steadily producing outstanding cadets over the course of its 18-year history; this year is no exception. While there are a few students in various stages of the enlistment process, four WAHS students have enlisted in a branch of the military and are ready to serve their country. Emmaleigh Jacob, who graduated early and joined in February 2018, and David Snipes are now members of the US Army. Katelyn McClain has enlisted in the Navy while Timothy Utnick is now a part of the United State Marine Corps.

Last year, WAHS saw the retirement of Social Studies teacher Ann Rustin who served as a Senior Class sponsor alongside Marshall Swindall ever since the high school opened in 2000. Swindall became a class sponsor twenty years ago at Middleton High School and has helped every valedictorian and salutatorian write their commencement speech and has seen every graduate of WAHS (more than 6,000) walk across the stage. This will be Swindall’s final graduation as he has also decided to retire.

“My two favorite times of the school year are homecoming and graduation,” said Swindall. “Graduation tests my organizational skills and provides closure for the school year. I help set-up and then walk around to make sure everything is happening in the order it is supposed to happen right down to the singing of the Alma Mater and the graduates exiting the building during the recessional. Through all of this I make an effort to be present but not be seen. Finally, I will tell you a secret … during the singing of the Alma Mater I usually cry a little … but don’t tell anyone and don’t make fun of me.”

“Congratulations, you survived 12 years of school,” said WAHS valedictorian Mary Stokes. “You are graduating. As you walk across this stage, you are announcing to the world, I did it. I worked hard, I struggled, but I am still here. You did it. You can do anything you want to do. This day is a statement. A statement to the world that even though you may have experienced hardships, you have the ability to persevere and succeed.”

Swindall would like to leave the Class of 2018 with one final piece of advice. “As they leave WAHS I would tell each graduate to be patient and never give up,” said Swindall. “Sometimes we have to work hard and then wait for the results. They should remember that perseverance is the key that will open many doors during their lifetime. Since I am retiring this year I would finish by saying ‘Good Luck’ and God Bless the WAHS Class of 2018 … my final class.”

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