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Graduates, parents reflect on time at North

'Once a Red Knight, Always a Red Knight'

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Jun 7, 2021

Principal Debbie Diggs poses for a picture with Michayla Misamore as she hands over the diploma during the North Fort Myers High School Commencement Ceremony at Hertz Arena on Saturday.

Their time started with a Category 5 hurricane and ended with a worldwide pandemic that turned their last 15 months at school into a whirl of uncertainty.

But for the North Fort Myers High School Class of 2021, the adversity brought them closer, made them grow up more quickly and appreciate those who helped them the most.

There were some great times and tough ones, but these four years have changed them in so many ways, entering as boys and girls and leaving as men and women.

Graduate Chloe Holloway said she couldn’t believe that her time at North was at an end, but she learned a lot.

“I think when I walk on the stage, it’s going to be surreal. I’m really excited and really proud of myself,” said Holloway shortly before Saturday’s graduation at at Hertz Arena.

She will go to Florida A&M to study business and marketing.

“I used to procrastinate, but I learned that if I wanted to go to a good school, I’d have to buckle down. I learned to be more responsible and organize better,” she said.

Christina Jelley, Chloe’s mom and a registered nurse who has cared for COVID patients through the pandemic, said it has been an ordeal but she has been able to see Chloe become an outstanding woman.

“She is everything I wish I was when I was her age. She is caring, compassionate and I am looking forward to what I’m going to see in the next 20 years of her life,” Jelley said.

Kaden Haag was getting help from his mother, Angela, with his cap. He said the four years at North were chaotic, but helped him become more of a man.

“Some think it was a much harder thing to get through than I lot of us can recognize. We’ve been able to, as a team, overcome this,” said Kaden, who will attend Florida Southwestern. “I’ve known some of these people more than half my life. So having to get a new group of friends will be difficult.”

“His confidence hasn’t blossomed, but he’s a leader and doesn’t even know it. I think being in an art atmosphere helped him blossom,” Angela said. “My heart is broken. He’s my only child and the center of my world. I’m glad we’re keeping it close by.”

Brandon Rucker’s finest moment is an easy one, having won a state championship in bowling. Still, he felt as if high school started yesterday.

“There isn’t a group of people I’d share it with than this one. Irma and the pandemic made things more difficult, but it happens in life and those who are successful build off that and bounce back,” said Rucker, who wants to become a sports agent. “I’ll miss the people I got to see every day.”

Did the students feel any change immediately after graduation?

Sierra Simon, senior class vice-president, said after graduation she didn’t feel all that much different than she did an hour earlier.

“I’m just really excited for the future. We’ve had a great four years and I look forwards to what’s ahead of us,” Simon said. “After Irma we had those two weeks off and it felt so weird and last year, we had two months off. We have some amazing teachers here and I’ll miss them.”

Kassandra Cooper said she was honored to have attended North. But did graduating change her?

“To be frank, No. I feel different because I’m holding a piece of paper. I am excited seeing that my future is ahead of me,” Cooper said, who will attend FGCU. “I’ve grown a lot. Being in orchestra, I learned teamwork, leadership skills and grow my musicality. It afforded me the opportunity to know what I want to become.”

Ditto for most of the other students, though they were grateful for the experience.

“I don’t feel any different at all, I’m just more hungry. I’m just really excited about going to USF in the fall. I can’t wait to see what the future brings,” said Abby Vick. “North High was amazing. I’m grateful for what they gave me.”

“Definitely not, but it really hit me, all the flashbacks of my four years here. It’s a blessing to have a staff and school that cares about you, especially with people like coach Dwayne Mack always on your back,” said Paxton Walker, who transferred from Island Coast after his freshman year.

“I knew this was coming, so I prepared myself. These four years went by fast. I forgot about Irma, but it was good being here,” said Delaney Terry. “I’ve matured a lot and gone through a lot, so it’s all been for the better.”

Laurie Bartlett and her husband, Todd Clontz, were there to see the Bartlett twins, Dillon and Jane, graduate. Laurie said they were happy to get into the building.

“We’re proud they’re graduating. It’s a great accomplishment,” Clontz said. “They graduated from the AICE program and will graduate summa cum laude.”

“I don’t know if they have grown more or less because of COVID. They haven’t been with their classmates all the time. It’s different than it would have been.” Laurie said.

John Morris, father of Sydney Morris, said it was exciting to see his daughter move on.

“It was the culmination of the things leading up to this. I thought of her as an infant this morning,” Morris said. “She has developed so much as an adult between that first day when she didn’t know anybody to now with her softball and the relationships she built there.”

Shelley Walton had mixed emotions about her son, Devon Cranford, graduating and starting a new chapter in his life.

“I’m happy, I’m sad, I’m elated. He did a great job giving his speech, I’m said because all the events and theater are over and he’s going to Florida State,” Walton said. “Now, he’s a man and going off on his own.”