By Kelly Snow |

A collection of 45 Mavericks just made a little history.

The inaugural graduating class in the history of Person Early College for Innovation and Leadership celebrated its commencement ceremony in front of friends and family at the Kirby Theater Saturday morning.

Nearly all of the PECIL graduates will leave high school with college credits and many earned associates degrees and were presented those by Piedmont Community College President Dr. Pamela Senegal.

According to PECIL principal Shirlonda Johnson, the members of the inaugural graduating class have been awarded more than $500,000 in scholarships combined.

“I was worried the night before that no students would show up that first day…but you did,” Johnson, the school’s only principal in its brief history said in her speech to the graduates. “Thank you for taking a chance on something different. For being a Maverick. Mavericks achieve things that are not always achieved by others. It has been amazing to be able to take a vision and bring it to life. You helped bring Person Early College for Innovation and Leadership to life.”

Johnson credited this first class for helping to build the foundation of the new school, one that she and others during the commencement said was built upon its core values of respect, pride, scholarship, integrity and responsibility.

“Together, you and I and the PECIL faculty and staff,  and your parents built a wonderfully unique school community,” Johnson said. “You helped build the reputation and the brand, you recruited other students, you showed up in your leadership attire whenever we asked, you learned about service to others, character leadership, self-advocacy and PECIL grit, you even had the challenge of a pandemic while trying to get to this finish line.”

Members of the graduating class served as the speakers during the ceremony, starting with PECIL’s first-ever valedictorian, Jackson Evans. Much of Evans’ message to his class members centered around the uniqueness they all shared.

“Our situation was not just different from the traditional high school experience, but different from any high school that has existed in Person County before now,” Evans said. “We did this because we are Mavericks; those who are unbranded; those without limitations and boundaries; and those who are independent, choosing to follow different paths from the majority.”

Salutatorian Charlotte Fitzgerald echoed Evans’ message of how special this class is and mixed in a little humor, mentioning how they all “made it through a documentary about a convicted felon who HAD 176 tigers and two husbands”.

“We are the class that, today, is resiliently crossing the finish line — PECIL’s first finish line,” Fitzgerald said. “The struggles of virtual courses couldn’t stop us. Precalculus couldn’t stop us. And anything that ever went down in the E-building couldn’t stop us. Like Macklemore once sang,’the ceiling can’t hold us.’”

Graduation speaker Kenli Whitlow focused on the relationships formed at the school and spoke about who she described as her greatest inspiration — her mother.

“My fellow graduates, I believe that being intentional in your relationships with others is one of the most important things that you can do, not only in college or in a workplace, but for the rest of your life,” Whitlow said. “Sometimes, even something as simple as smiling at someone introduces you to your next greatest adventure.”

Photo: Colton Yancey was presented his associates degree from Piedmont Community College by president Dr. Pamela G. Senegal.

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