It’s graduation week in Loudoun County, which means thousands of caps will be sent flying, speakers will offer words of wisdom sprinkled with a bit of humor, and graduates will reflect on memories made in classrooms and on sports fields and stages.
The county is celebrating more than 5,000 high school graduates this week. The first of the county schools’ commencement ceremonies began Sunday and the celebrations will continue today and tomorrow.
Graduation marks a major milestone at any school, but Sunday’s commencement ceremony at Dominion High School was particularly special. Halfway through the class of 2017’s senior year, their principal, John Brewer, was suspended and nearly let go. Hundreds of Dominion students spoke at School Board meetings from December through March to urge school system leaders to reinstate their principal. Many said it was Brewer who first welcomed them into the Dominion community, and they couldn’t imagine receiving their diploma from anyone else.
The principal, who returned to his post in April, received a louder applause than the Class of 2017 after commencement speaker Matthew Traenkle first broached the subject.
“This year we experienced great adversity spending half of our senior year without our beloved principal,” he said, addressing his classmates. “Yet, despite temporarily losing the face of the Titans, we trudged through and we are very glad to be receiving our diplomas on stage from none other than Dr. Brewer.”
The comment prompted a loud standing ovation for Brewer, who shed tears and gave a wave to the gym full of parents, students and faculty.
The principal later encouraged the graduates to find something they believe in, get involved in it and give it their all. “By following these words of wisdom, Titans of the Class of 2017, may you be the next generation of Titans graduates to go far and, in your own life, find extraordinary significance,” he said. “I’m proud of you. Go Titans.”
Del. Randy Minchew addressed Heritage High School’s graduating class with a few words of caution about his own kind—politicians. He said that there was a time when dishonesty was a disqualifying character for a political candidate, regardless of their political affiliation. But over the years that has changed. He noted how the creators of PolitiFact said they never expected to issue so many “pants on fire” designations for statements made by public officials. The current president is the record holder for the most “pants on fire” designations with 65, Minchew said.
“If the present trend continues, and I hope it does not, your generation will be confronted with more misstatements, more shaded truths, and more bold-faced lies than any generation that has come before you,” Minchew said. But on the plus side they are probably better equipped than previous generations, he added. “I urge you to demand the truth and not blithely accept purposeful misstatements. And, finally, I ask that you be honest and true to yourselves and to others.”
Brandie Young, Rock Ridge valedictorian, congratulated her class for creating the school’s culture and establishing its very first traditions. The school’s class of 2017 were reassigned from Briar Woods, John Champe and Broad Run high schools in 2014 to be among Rock Ridge’s first students.
“We built this school,” Young said to her classmates. “We created its clubs, founded its sports teams, and started a nationally renowned drama program. … We made this school into a force to be reckoned with in and out of the classrooms.”
Loudoun County High School said farewell to 350 graduates in a ceremony this morning. Keynote speaker Stephen Patrick Cypher, a member of the school’s Class of 2017, asked his classmates to thank their parents for shaping them into the young men and women they are today.
“Let us not abandon or forget what they have taught us, and how they made us who we are today,” he said. “Our parents build the foundation for our lives. No organization or institution can take the place of that.”
Today, commencement ceremonies are also planned for Loudoun Valley, Briar Woods, Riverside, Stone Bridge and Park View high schools. And four more high schools will celebrate their graduates tomorrow: Woodgrove, Tuscarora, Potomac Falls and John Champe. Loudoun students graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology will get their final send off with a commencement ceremony Saturday.