IR Pride: Powerful commencement filled with thanks, support and goodbyes

DAGSBORO – Filled with pride and power, Indian River High School’s 49th commencement was an evening of thanks, goodbyes, a look ahead, priceless memories – and even a reunion.

“This is a unique class,” said longtime Indian River School District administrator Michael Williams, the first-year principal at Indian River High School. “It truly has been an honor to be here with these students . here tonight.”

Priya Patel, the class valedictorian who will attend the University of Delaware, spoke of pride, support and the meaning of success.

“Today we say goodbye to everything that was familiar. Everything that was comfortable. Here’s to all of the pep rallies, track meets, band concerts, club meetings, homecoming, everything before prom, the prom itself and after prom …,” Priya said. “All of us have come a really long way these past four years. You’ve grown physically and mentally, and you should be proud. This journey would not have been possible without the help of many people. Thank you to all of the teachers, my friends and my family. Tonight marks an important climax in our lives. We walk away with clean slates, ready for forge our new paths.”

“Genuine success isn’t just determined by your grades, rank, social status or even the amount of money you make. It’s determined by the achievement of your goals,” said Priya. “When you find what you want to pursue follow through at your own standards. Don’t buy into society’s definition of success. Find what you love and follow it to glory. And throughout that journey don’t be afraid to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them.”

Fabrea McCray, this year’s senior class president, brought her infectious smile and endless energy to the podium. She showered classmates with pride and sincere thanks.

“I’m proud of you all because without you guys I couldn’t be standing here tonight speaking to you. Walking into school every day was much easier knowing I was part of a smart, athletic, talented and motivated group of teens who wanted nothing but the best for them and others,” said Fabrea, a standout athlete who was honored recently by the Delaware African America Sports Hall of Fame’s Top Female Athlete in Sussex County. “Many take life for granted. And if you don’t remember me for anything else, remember me for my smiling face and the passion I had to make someone else’s day. Wherever life may take you always stay true to yourself, which means be truthful to core identity rather than masking someone else’s. And remember, beauty begins when you decide to be yourself. I mean – look at me!”

“Many people always ask why I am always so happy, always in a good mood. And I now think this is my time to explain. I would always find myself sitting around … on my bed, in the locker-room before a game, bus rides or whatever the case may have been … listening to Ray Lewis’ motivational speeches: If tomorrow wasn’t promised what would you give for today?” said Fabrea, who will attend Delaware State University and major in education. “Things are not always easy. There is going to be times you may fall.  But falling doesn’t define you. It is the actions you take afterwards.”

Class salutatorian Delaney Brannon is bound for Happy Valley – Penn State University.

“If you were to have asked me four years ago where I would find myself today I definitely would not have said that I would be speaking to my graduating class as salutatorian. In actuality, I didn’t see myself up here at all. Even after receiving my rank at the end of each year I continued to under-estimate my abilities and compare myself to others,” Delaney said. “I want everyone to know as we move on with our lives, gaining confidence of your capabilities is one of the easiest ways to find pride in all of your endeavors. I mean, come on, comparing yourself to others is like so ‘high school.’”

“I think I am supposed to include something inspirational in this speech somewhere. Honestly you probably don’t want to hear that you are the future, and this is just the beginning and only the first chapter of your life is coming to an end,” Delaney added. “But standing here I want each and every one of you to know how proud I am to see so many of you in your caps and gowns. I want you to know that if you are sitting here in this audience, listening to this speech, wearing a cap and gown it was worth it. And I am proud. Your families are proud. And I hope the person sitting on either side of you in their caps and gowns can find it in themselves to be proud of you, too.”

Special guest commencement speaker Salome Thomas-El, a nationally-acclaimed educator and inspirational speaker, reunited with the Class of 2018 which he had met in a March 2017 presentation at Indian River High School.

“When I was here over a year ago I met with these young people. And I was so inspired by my meeting with them …,” said Mr. Thomas-El, the head at the Thomas Edison Charter School in Wilmington. “I was touched by the way I saw these students care for one another; students from all different backgrounds, all races, different families and different communities. It was something special in these young people. When I walked around the school and saw them interacting with teachers and staff members who work with them I knew that I was in a special place.”

Mr. Thomas-El recalled his extended visit, school tour and interaction with this year’s graduating class during the latter part of their junior year.

“I was not easy on these students when I was here. I called some students out on their responsibility that they have to be true friends. Not a Facebook friend, but a true friend, a friend that someone can count on. A friend that doesn’t allow friends to miss class, to miss assignments, knowing that they will end up at Penn State, but their friend might end up in the state penn (penitentiary),” said Mr. Thomas-El. “I told these young people that as adults we are hard on them now, so it will be easier on them later in life. Discipline is a form of love. These young people need those parameters. I felt that, in the audience, when I was here with these young people.”

There are struggles and failures, Mr. Thomas-El, all along the highway of life.

“I told you that you will fail. But failure is an option. You learn from your failures. Failure is motivating. Success is paralyzing. When you find success, I don’t want you to get comfortable. Once you become comfortable it is very easy for you to think that everything else in life will be easy,” said Mr. Thomas-El. “Parents, teachers, administrators, staff members, building resilient children is not about teaching these children about how to be successful. It’s about teaching them how to respond when they are not successful. How do you come back when you are rejected? Do you give up? Do you stop working hard?”

He shared his own experience as a high school student.

“Several teachers and counselors cornered me in the hallway and they said, ‘We heard you talking about skipping college and going to the NBA.’ I said, ‘Yes, do you know a good agent?’ They said, ‘No, but we’ve seen you play basketball.’ They said, ‘Son, you can’t jump over a credit card. So, you are not going to the NBA. But you are smart enough to get an MBA (Master of Business Administration). Why don’t you go away to college and come back and help the same community that supported you?’” Mr. Thomas-El said. “Young people, I pose that challenge to you.”

Mr. Thomas-El said he was deeply touched in that he received the special commencement speaker invitation directly from the Class of 2018.

“That touched me more than anything because it let me know that these were students who were already leaders in their own lives,” said Mr. Thomas-El. “It is the highest honor than any educator could ever receive, to have students say that we want to hear from you, on the day when we are finally saying goodbye to our beloved school and to our staff, and to our friends.”

Challenges in life Ms. Thomas-El spoke about were reflected in Fabrea’s address.

“I couldn’t have done this without my wonderful family that has supported me, a handful friends of that have stood by me, relatives that have passed that watch over me, and a strong single father for several years that shaped me to the person I am today,” she said.

“That’s what life is about,” said Indian River School District Superintendent Mark Steele. “You meet challenges, every day for the rest of your life. How you handle those challenges is going to depend on the type of person. I heard words like service, words like character. Those are the two most important things you can do as a human being in today’s society; treat people well. And don’t forget where you came from. You came from Indian River High School.”

Statistically speaking

Approximately 84 percent of the class with be furthering their education at post-secondary institutions. The majority are bound for the University of Delaware, Delaware Technical Community College, Wesley College, Delaware State University and Salisbury University. Others are headed for the likes of Penn State, Temple, the University of Maryland, Widener, Lebanon Valley College, West Chester, Christopher Newport and others.

Twelve percent of the class are preparing to enter into the work force.

Serving their country

Nearly four percent will enter the military. One Class of 2018 graduate – Helen Davis – will be entering the Merchant Marines Academy as the first female from IRHS to ever be accepted to a United States military academy.

Graduates headed for the military received a special applause.

Academic Top 10

Mr. Williams recognized the following as the Top 10 academic students in this year’s class: Priya Patel, Delaney Brannon, Kennedy Butch, Dahria Kalmbach, Nathaniel McCabe, Ryan McCoy, Emily Tharby, Samantha Whelen, Isabel Wolfenbarger and Jewel Yanek.

IR Pride Scholarships

Six $1,500 IR Pride Scholarships made possible by the efforts of the Indian River High School Alumni Association were awarded to: Delaney Grace Brannon, Joud Dabaj, Nathaniel Ralph McCabe, Mackenzie Allyson Webb, Samantha Elizabeth Whelen and Jewel Anne Yanek.

“These students have shown true IR Pride in their time here and have actively worked to make IR a better place for all stakeholders,” said Mr. Williams.

Outdoors as planned

Commencement was held outdoors as planned, thanks to the emergency work of staff after a major electrical failure was discovered the morning of graduation.

“At 9 o’clock this morning it was cloudy, it was misty, and we had no power to this outside facility,” said Mr. Williams. “Through the work of our custodial staff, our district electricians and maintenance staff we were able to restore power around 2 p.m. and get everything set up for this evening. So, thank you.”

About Salome Thomas-El

Principal EL was a regular contributor on the first season of “The Dr. Oz Show” and the author of the best-selling books, I Choose to Stay, about his Vaux Middle School experience, and The Immortality of Influence, which stresses the importance of leadership, mentoring, parenting and service to others.

Mr. Thomas-EL speaks to groups around the world and frequently appears on C-SPAN, CNN and NPR Radio. His work has made the likes Readers Digest and the Oprah Radio Network.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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