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Waccamaw High: Time catches up with the Class of 2015

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Members of Waccamaw High School’s Class of 2015 will receive their diplomas in a graduation ceremony beginning at 5 p.m. today in the school gymnasium.

For some of the 192 members of the class, graduation day arrived faster than they expected.

“We’ve been looking forward to this all year, and now that it’s here it’s just like, ‘Whoa!’ Maybe it can slow down a little bit,” said senior Bobby Walters, who will attend the University of South Carolina Honors College. “It’s cool. I’m glad all of us got here, and we’re all going different places.”

Senior Richard Rasheed doesn’t expect to feel the impact until he gets his diploma. “Emotionally, you say, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to be here for a very long time because I’m here until I graduate’ and you turn your head for a second and you are here at graduation practice,” he said Wednesday morning. Rasheed plans to attend Furman University.

Senior Mackenzie Confer said members of the class have been out of school since last Friday’s make-up exams. “Grades are in,” she said. “It’s kind of surreal. Most of us have started working or just kick-started our summers. My parents said it’s going to sneak up on you. You are on your own. You’re 18, going off into the world. It’s scary to realize that, yeah, we are here. We are our own people now.”

She said social media will help keep some classmates connected, but graduation will be the last time they are all together. “We just realized we have no ties to each other,” she said, “and all those who want to leave are going to.” Confer plans to attend Salem College in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Principal David Hammel said the Class of 2015 is a class of high-achievers. Members set a school record for its scholarship numbers. Totals are still coming in, he said, and the figure will be announced at graduation. The school’s athletic program was cited for excellence each of the last four years.

“Top to bottom,” he said, “this is a well-rounded class, a class that followed the rules. They’ve been a very easy class to have here: great attitude, great work ethic, just a group of all-round good kids. This class has led this year in a quiet and dignified way. They’ve led by example, and as a result we’ve had a real smooth year. Seniors set the tone. While I’m sorry to see them go, I’m excited to see what they will accomplish.”

Seating for today’s commencement exercises will begin at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are required. There will be no admission once the ceremony begins.

The valedictorian: Kaitlin Sweeney knows how to manage time

Kaitlin Sweeney isn’t worried about stage fright. As a dancer, she’s been on stage since she was 4.

“I’ve never given a speech before. I’m kind of nervous, but I’m also excited,” said Sweeney, the valedictorian for the Waccamaw High Class of 2015.

The daughter of Kathleen Boone of Pawleys Island and Robert Sweeney of Austin, Texas, she will attend Georgetown University. She plans to follow a pre-med track with the goal of becoming a psychiatrist.

“I’m really excited about being able to talk in front of all my classmates,” she said. “I have been at Waccamaw since kindergarten so I think it’s pretty cool to be valedictorian.”

Q. What qualities were you looking for in a college?

A. Georgetown’s a really great academic school, but I got into some good academic schools so I think that the thing about Georgetown was it just felt different. I liked the location. It definitely had a campus feel, but then you walk out of the campus and you’re in Washington. I really liked that. At Duke they really have a great campus, but there’s not really something outside.

I was just applying to schools that I knew really well from reputation. My grandma actually went to Georgetown. She liked it a lot.

I just wanted a different experience. I think if I’d gone to a more rural setting, it wouldn’t have been that different from here.

Q. Does your academic achievement come from inspiration or perspiration?

A. Maybe 50-50. I’ve worked really hard and I’ve studied a lot. I’ve worked really hard at time management. I’m lucky to be able to pick up on things fast.

Q. Can you tell me about a subject you struggled with?

A. I like math and science a lot. A lot of people are either a math and science person or a social studies/language arts person, but I find that I like both areas. There were times in calculus and physics where it was a little difficult to grasp. I haven’t really struggled in one particular subject.

There was one thing in calculus that had to do with volume of solids based on a graph. That was probably the hardest thing that we did. I just tried to study and then you hope that you do your best.

Q. Who is a teacher who has made a difference in your education?

A. My English teacher, coach [Ben] Schoen, his class has definitely been my favorite. He teaches English and AP English literature. Just in the past few years, my writing has gotten so much better. And my reading and my ability to analyze literature.

He teaches like a college teacher. He doesn’t give you unnecessary work or menial work. He gives you things that matter. The class is pretty much based on reading and discussion and writing.

Q. What is something you consider a prized possession?

A. Does it have to be a thing? I am lucky in that I think I have some natural ability to pick up fast and learn things quickly. That’s helped me a lot. Maybe even the discipline to be able to manage time and plan.

Q. How did dance influence your education?

A. I’ve danced a lot. I’ve danced since I was 4 and I’ve competed since then. I’ve spent a lot of hours practicing and traveling on weekends. It’s helped me manage my time. It’s helped me become disciplined. It’s a lot different than school so it gives me a break. My whole group of close friends are all from dance. It’s kept me busy. I’m the kind of person who if I’m not busy I don’t like it. I like to have a lot of stuff going on. Because I danced, I certainly had to manage time. I didn’t have very much outside of school and dance, when you go to school all day and then dance for four hours.

Q. What’s a book you would recommend to a friend?

A. “Catcher in the Rye.” That’s one of my favorite books.

It’s a really interesting novel. It’s kind of polarizing. Usually people like it a lot or don’t like it a lot. It’s just a good book to read in high school. There’s a lot of deep meaning, which I really like.

I first read it two years ago, but I’ve re-read it a few times.

Q. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A. Hopefully, I’ll be a doctor, a psychiatrist. I’ll probably be somewhere farther up north. I don’t know where I’ll go to medical school, but if I’m up in D.C. it’ll probably be somewhere around there. Maybe even Georgetown.

I could see myself out of my residencies. Maybe married, but I don’t know.

Q. When you look back on your time at Waccamaw High, what surprises you?

A. It kind of surprises me how far I’ve come. I didn’t think much about college or class rank really until the past two years. Just working hard and taking these opportunities, I’ve been able to get into schools like Duke and Georgetown.

I never would have thought, even freshman year of high school, that I would be going to Georgetown or even applying.

Three years ago, I kind of thought “it would be cool to be valedictorian,” but I never thought it would happen.

Q. What advice would you give to a freshman?

A. Waccamaw is all about what you make of it. You can take easy courses or you can push yourself. I would just say take as many hard courses as you can. That way you can really learn what subjects you like. That way you can prepare yourself for college. You can get a great education, but you have to choose to. You have to choose to take the AP courses, to study.

Make your course schedule as rigorous as possible. Not because it’s going to be impossible or too hard. I never found that with my schedule. I had to work hard and study, but I think I had a much more interesting four years.

The salutatorian: Friendly competition pushed Jackson Stacy to excel

As a senior, Jackson Stacy didn’t have a full schedule, but he found ways to fill his time.

The salutatorian of the Class of 2015 took on leadership roles at Waccamaw High and All Saints Church. He was president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the National Honor Society. He was a captain of the cross country team and the academic team. He was leader of the church youth group.

The son of Laura and Dan Stacy of Pawleys Island, he will attend Vanderbilt University. He plans to study bio-mechanical engineering.

Q. What qualities were you looking for in a college?

A. I was hoping to find a good balance between school work and having a life. That was important in high school. I definitely wanted a top tier college, but some place where I wouldn’t be stuck in the library every waking hour of the day.

Vanderbilt also had a good sense of community. All the students live on campus. There are about 7,000 undergraduates.

Q. As a sophomore, you stopped during the state cross country final to help a runner who collapsed. You finished 37th. Would the competition for grades let you do the same thing in an academic setting?

A. I think our class is the perfect level of competition. I’ve seen in classes above us and below us students do what we call grade grubbing. They try to take certain classes, the easy classes that carry the most weighted GPA, and switch which years they take classes and double up.

In our class, the Class of 2015, it seems all the top students just try to take the hardest classes we can. I felt like there’s been competition, but competition just for the sake of pushing each other to do better than we could alone. The top five or six students in the class are five or six of my best friends. We push each other.

I’ve had teachers give hints about the test and then rather than keep it send it out in a group text. It’s really just to see how high we can push each other.

Q. What was a light-bulb moment for you in school?

A. I was a good student in middle school, but not a great one. I was terribly immature. I should probably write apology letters to all my middle school teachers. They all hated me.

About midway through freshman year I realized that being nice to teachers is not only better for our relationship – because they’re actually people and they deserve respect and stuff – it also helps your grade. It’s just a win-win.

Once you get to know the teachers, they are actually some cool people.

Q. What are the qualities that make a good teacher?

A. The best teachers that I’ve seen first of all try harder than others. They come before and stay after and put extra care into their lessons. They’re willing to take the time to help out those who are trying to help themselves. They don’t stall the whole class if one or two people are falling behind.

My high school experience has been a lot of self-teaching. But I like to read, learn, and so I find I learn better if they present the material and I figure out how best to learn it. That’s how most of the AP and upper level classes at Waccamaw work.

Q. Is technology more of a help or more of a distraction in the classroom?

A. I guess it’s a help. I feel like we don’t use too much technology at Waccamaw. Its computers are not the best. The teachers try to use their Smart boards, which is nice, but I feel like we probably learn the same way they did 20 years ago. Which is fine.

Multi-media helps interest people, but if you’re interested then whatever way the material’s presented you’ll be able to learn it

Q. What book would you recommend to a friend?

A. “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay. It’s about a South African kid who wants to be the best boxer in the world. It’s his journey from childhood to maturity, all the trials he faces and his story of overcoming them.

My aunt actually recommended it a few years ago. I just recently re-read it. One of my teachers gave me a copy for graduation.

It’s just a good story. It’s realistic. There are ups and downs and you can kind of relate and get some inspiration and lessons without it trying to shove a theme down your throat.

Q. Can you tell me about something you consider a prized possession?

A. I’d say my guitar. My friend started teaching me guitar about six months ago. I’ve really grown to like it, but the whole time I’ve been using my sister’s guitar. My birthday was actually Friday and then graduation is coming up so my grandparents gave me money to get a guitar. It’s a Breedlove, a lesser known acoustic brand. I haven’t really stopped playing it since.

I figured I was going to Nashville, I might as well.

Q. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A. Hopefully with a job. Other than that, only God knows where I’m going to be. I have no idea. I’m focused on the now. I just don’t like making plans too far into the future. I like to be open to different possibilities for what might happen.

Q. What would you expect to find if you return to Waccamaw High in 10 years?

A. I’d probably expect it to be pretty much the same. I don’t know if I’d be surprised or not. Some of the teachers have been there awhile and the way they talk about it it’s been pretty much the status quo for awhile.

Q. What would you change?

A. I would like to see more communication between the teachers and the parents. A lot of the time students’ desires and teachers’ desires and parents’ desires don’t all line up. I think everybody could do a little better.

I feel like a lot of times either students end up taking classes they don’t want to or they don’t get to take classes they want to based on their expectations or their parents’ expectations. That can sometimes hamper education when you’ve got an advanced class, but you’ve got students who don’t want to be in there and that holds the class back. Or you’ve got students who have never really been pushed that could probably be taking more advanced classes and bettering themselves and giving themselves better opportunities.

Q. Is there something you would have liked to do at school but never got around to?

A. Freshman and sophomore year, I kind of wanted to do student council. I’m glad that never really came through, I was so busy leading other stuff this year. I think I chose well. I enjoyed everything I did.

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