Valedictorian Ashley Jones challenged her classmates at Farmville Central High School to change the world, and she gave them the key to do it.

“No matter where you are going after high school every single one of you does have the potential to change the world for the better,” Jones told 178 graduating seniors at Minges Coliseum. “You are all equipped to otherwise bring hope to a dark place.”

To change the world is simple, according to Jones.

“So what’s the key to change the world. You love the people in your own world,” Jones said, encouraging classmates to use God’s love as an example.

“You change the world by loving the people in yours … Don’t feel burdened by the task before us to change the world. Just love people.”

Salutatorian Rebecca Davenport reminded graduates what it meant to be a Jaguar.

“I encourage you to share the values you have learned over the last four years with someone you encounter on your next journey ... You never know how impactful your words and small actions can be to others,” Davenport said.

“I encourage you to not dwell on the negatives of the past as you go out into the real world. Instead, I encourage you to start fresh with new goals and a positive mindset. Those two in combination can take you much further than you ever thought possible. If you set your mind to it and stay motivated.”

Graduate Kirsten Barrett told graduates to live their lives like Jaguars.

“Every time we have called ourselves Jaguars at our high school, we spoke the attribute of valor into our lives. As we leave here today let us all carry that same spirit of a high school no matter where life takes us.”

Through their hard work and dedication, the 2021 graduating class earned $2,057,695 in scholarship offers, whichPrincipal Brad Johnston hailed as a crowning achievement.

“With the pandemic altering our normal school experience this year, seniors had more difficulty accessing and completing scholarship applications since they were not on campus daily,” Johnston said. “To have over $2 million in scholarships is a testament to the character and persistence shown by the graduating class of 2021 not only to keep their academic performance at a high level to qualify for scholarships but also the extra effort it took to get recommendation letters completed and applications submitted without the daily face-to-face support our staff is normally able to provide in a traditional school year.”

Saturday was surreal for Daisy Evans of Farmville, who graduated with a certified nursing assistant certificate.

“With this year and having to deal with COVID, it just went by too fast. To be here right now it’s weird but I am excited to start my career,” said Evans, who will attend Pitt Community College in the fall.

Graduates Jamie Swafford of Farmville and Rebekah Bazemore of Greenville were excited about their next steps as well.

“It feels likes a great accomplishment and I’m ready for the next chapter. I’m going to miss being able to see my friends together,” Swafford said.

Bazemore added, “It feels amazing that we are finally out and get to start our own lives.”

Bazemore will study radiology at Pitt Community College while Swafford will attend the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to study political science.

The importance of graduation was not lost on Ariauna Murray of Farmville.

“It’s exciting. I made it through high school — a lot of people don’t,” Murray said, adding she will miss her classmates.

“Most of them have been with me since elementary school.”

Graduation was both a time of excitement and fear for Kelsey Hackworth of Walstonburg.

“It’s exciting and terrifying just to be an adult,” Hackworth said.

For Nikki Dickinson of Farmville, it was a relief to see her son, Sterling, graduate.

“This last year has been extremely taxing and seeing him go through all the things he’s gone through and overcome, it’s a big sense of relief,” Dickinson said, adding she was proud of Sterling who will enter the United States Marine Corps.

Melanie Boone also beamed with pride for her cum laude graduate Mekel Turner.

“He’s done very well. I’m so proud of him,” Boone said, adding Turner will study engineering at N.C. State University.

Contact Donna Marie Williams at dwilliams@ncweeklies.com.