By Greg Hince
May 23, 2012. The 2012 graduates of Watauga High School will walk across the stage of Appalachian State University’s Holmes Convocation Center Saturday into a world full of new opportunities and responsibilities.
The 311 graduating Pioneers will gather together for the last time May 26. Graduates are expected to check in at 10 a.m., with the ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. and scheduled to last roughly an hour. Parking is available anywhere on Appalachian’s campus Saturday.
“This is an extremely bright and unique class,” Jane Rogers, Watauga High School Senior Counselor said. “The students have earned over $6,000,000 in scholarship offers for academics and athletics.”
Seniors have been offered scholarships to schools across North Carolina and the Southeast, as well as major universities from Michigan to Florida.
The 2012 class had the unique experience of spending two years in the old Watauga High School building and two years in the new building. Rogers thinks of the graduating class as particularly memorable.
“I’ve noticed we actually have an unusual amount of twins in the graduation class,” Rogers said. “We really have so many students that have endless potential.”
The school is hosting a senior breakfast Friday at 8:30 a.m., with graduation practice after at 11:00 a.m. in Holmes Convocation Center. Parking is available at the Appalachian parking deck on Rivers Street.
“This is an exciting time for students, because it’s a culmination of years of hard work, and it’s a time to celebrate with family,” Marshall Ashcraft, Public Information Director of Watauga County Schools said. “We’re lucky to be able to use the Convocation Center, because it is an excellent facility and offers almost unlimited space to hold students’ family members.
Ashcraft said the Watauga graduating class size was relatively equal to that of most other schools in the Watauga, Wilkes and Ashe County areas and was consistent with the school’s mid-year enrollment numbers. Watauga had a four-year graduation rate of 87.4 percent in 2010-11, the most recent data available.
The graduation class is headed by valedictorian Margaret Anagnos and salutatorian Jessica Dagher. The student body President is Emily Haas and senior class presidents are Nick McGuire and Elisabeth Zimmerman. The senior class was honored in a capping/awards ceremony May 18 at the Watauga High School gym.
Watauga High School previously held a ”Project Graduation” event for two decades, until 2008, which offered students a safe place to celebrate with free food, events, prizes and entertainment. School leaders had noticed a disturbing increase in the amount of alcohol-related accidents graduation night.
Watauga no longer puts on the event now that graduation is held in the morning, however they offer an annual “Senior Festival” the day before graduation.
The school turned its efforts toward their “After Prom Party”, which was held late Saturday May 19 in the Appalachian Student Recreation Center and served relatively the same purpose as “Project Graduation”.
Claire Homeier, Watauga County Schools Drug Education Counselor, coordinates the event and has overseen graduation events for Watauga High School for years.
“We had a good turn out this year, but we really want to raise awareness for next year so that we can offer kids a fun, safe and free place to go instead of facing other temptations and dangerous situations.”
The event this year featured food, bingo, a climbing wall and door prizes including Flat screen TVs, Blue ray players, a Kindle, iPod Shuffles and gift cards.
Homeier believes traditional community events are important to provide a fun place for students to gather and give parents peace of mind. She credits a handful of local business for donations, like door prizes, that are vital to keeping programs like “After Prom Party” running.
And although the school no longer puts on post-graduation events, the well being of students is still paramount on the faculty’s mind. Homeier’s main intention remains to get promising young students safely out into the world.
“All students should take extra care to think about their actions around this time,” she said. “But especially on graduation night, which should be one of the most memorable nights of your life for good reasons.”