‘Kind, Fiercely Competitive’ Southern Regional Class of 2019 Begins Its Next Journey

By DAVID BIGGY | Jun 19, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Stafford Township — A couple of weeks ago, Southern Regional Middle School teacher Scott Cooper hand-delivered a letter to Abigail Patchell. She had written it to herself in eighth grade, and Cooper gave it back to her as a parting gift as she embarked upon graduation from high school.

“I wrote in that letter to myself, ‘I hope you’re writing your valedictorian speech,’ and here I am,” said Patchell, about 25 minutes before stepping up to the podium on Southern’s football field and delivering that speech to thousands in attendance at the 62nd commencement ceremony on June 14. “Becoming the high school valedictorian was a huge goal of mine, even in middle school. Today, being able to make that speech means I can work hard through any challenge. This day came so fast, but I’ve met some great people along the way.”

Prior to lining up for the march from the high school’s 11/12 gymnasium to the field, the 500 graduates of the Class of 2019 mingled about, taking photos of each other in groups, snapping selfies with teachers and administrators, and, generally, simply absorbing the joy of their final minutes together.

“What this day was all about hit me this morning when we were watching the senior slide show just before our last graduation practice,” said Kelsey Hemenway, who’s on her way to the University of South Carolina to study tourism management. “I’m really happy I’ve been able to experience the past six years here at Southern. All the teachers wanted to see us succeed, and I’m fortunate to have been part of such a great class that really embraced the Southern standard of excellence.”

One of the many teachers interested in the success of his students was Scott Baker, said Samantha Brummer.

“He was always fun and did some crazy stuff to make us feel comfortable,” said Brummer, who soon will be furthering her prowess in multimedia applications at the Brick campus of the Ocean County Vocational Technical School system. “He really helped me a lot, and I’m going to miss him. The time went by so quick, but I learned a lot about respect for others and just being kind to people.”

Chris Ambrosio, who was the first to arrive to the school and parked his Ford F150 at the front of the line to leave once the ceremony was complete, credited Technical Sgt. Aubrey Vasquez with teaching him the “principles of being a leader, taking care of others and who I am as a person.”

“I’m ready to get out of here and go to college,” said the ROTC commander-in-charge, who is headed for The Citadel in South Carolina, where he plans to study intelligence as he works toward the U.S. Marine Corps. “Here at Southern, I’ve learned how to push myself more than what I think I can do. I’m going to miss my friends and the daily connections I’ve had with the people here.”

Of course, for Southern Principal Eric Wilhelm, the graduation ceremony marked a special time for his family – the youngest of the Wilhelm clan, Emma, was somewhere amid the graduating class as it lined up behind him moments before walking onto the field.

“She’s our last, and the fact of the matter is, for all these kids, this is the start of everything,” the proud principal said. “A lot of people have said about our students and their time here that these are the best years of their lives, and I’ve communicated time and again, I hope not. This is a first step toward a lot of great years ahead. It’s an exciting time, for my family personally, and our entire Southern family. This class is a really kind group of kids, and they’re fiercely competitive. We’re really proud of them.”

As she closed out her speech, Patchell challenged her classmates to make a profound mark on the world around them.

“Class of 2019, the world needs us more than ever before,” she said. “There is turmoil spreading around the globe that can be stopped by our generation. I know that each of you holds the potential to disperse into the world and bring honor to the Southern Regional name. I hope that, even when we are exploring our vast futures next year, all of you remember where your roots are and can reflect on the beautiful memories you have created here.”

— David Biggy


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