A conversation with the county’s top graduating seniors

A conversation with the county’s top graduating seniors

One is headed for either UNC Chapel Hill or the U.S. Naval Academy and looking at a career in the U.S. military. Another will study physics and meteorology at UCLA. Yet another is heading to East Carolina University to study on the pre-med track. One student is going to N.C. State while also planning for a career in the U.S. military. Another will study at N.C. State en route to becoming a licensed dietician.

      For this special issue honoring the graduating seniors at our Dare County high schools, the Sentinel attempted to interview via email the county’s top high school students — the six valedictorians and salutatorians at Cape Hatteras Secondary School, Manteo High School and First Flight High School. We asked them to tell us a little about themselves, their high school experience, the role of social media in their lives and about growing up on the Outer Banks.

      Five of the six responded in time for deadline. They are Cape Hatteras Valedictorian Morgan Fairbanks, whose plans include N.C. State and the military; Manteo Valedictorian Sophia Farrow, headed for ECU and pre-med; First Flight Valedictorian Parker Sylvia, who received the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship for UNC; First Flight Salutatorian Shane McKenna, who will be traveling coast to coast to enroll at UCLA; and Cape Hatteras Salutatorian Molly Greenwood, who will major in Nutrition Sciences at N.C. State.

      We thank them for participating and for their thoughtful responses.

      Those responses, edited here for space, provide insight into the attributes and attitudes that helped forge their academic success, while also highlighting some interesting differences. On one thing, they all agree. Growing up on the Outer Banks is a very special experience.

What is the most important thing you learned in high school?

  “The most important lesson I learned in high school was that competition is key,” wrote Parker Sylvia. “By competition I don’t mean hating your opponents and trying to beat your friends in everything that you do. My definition of competition throughout school is competing with your classmates and friends to make everyone better.”

      “I learned that I can push myself past what I thought I was capable of,” stated Morgan Fairbanks.

      That idea of pushing oneself was echoed by Molly Greenwood: “The most important thing I learned from Cape Hatteras Secondary School is that in order to succeed you must step out of your comfort zone. For the longest time I was afraid of public speaking, but every time I pushed myself, I would become more comfortable.”

      Sophia Farrow emphasized that, “The most important thing I learned in high school is that you get out what you put into life. You cannot expect to be given anything you do not work for.”

      And Shane McKenna offered a somewhat different perspective. “All your achievements in life will mean nothing if you don’t slow down every once in a while and enjoy the present moment,” he wrote. “To be corny, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. “

If there is one course you didn’t take that you could invent and design for high school students, what would it be?

      This question elicited a series of interesting responses as well.

      "One course…I would invent and design for high school students would be how to manage stress,” said Molly Greenwood. “It would teach techniques that therapists often use for their clients and create an open space for students to relate to each other.

      Morgan Fairbanks focused on other life skills: “It would be a class that teaches us skills that we will need in the near future, such as how to interview, budget, or properly manage time.”

      “I would invent a course that taught high school students socialization skills. In this day and age, young adults use social media and texting to communicate, more so than face to face communication…Communication is the key to success in many aspects of life, such as relationships and business,” wrote Sophia Farrow.

      For his part, Parker Sylvia wrote that, “I would invent a ‘What’s Next?’ course….designed to help students understand what possible career paths and post high school education plans they could choose from. Many students are leaving high school and going to college just because that is what many high schoolers do, but they don’t know what they want to study or what job they are working towards.”

      And Shane McKenna, who is headed to school in the home of Hollywood, focused on the impact of entertainment. “I’d love to take a course on how the film industry affects society and culture,” he stated. “Movies and TV have a huge impact on people my age, and I would love to learn more about the movie making process and the motives of the directors.”

How important a role does social media play in your life?

 In what some might view as a surprise, the dominant view of social media among the students interviewed here was a pretty critical one.

      Parker Sylvia said that in his case, “social media plays a very large part in my life. Most of the time, I use social media to know what is going on in the news. I use social media to connect with distant friends and family. I also use it to share my accomplishments and my favorite parts of my life. ”

      But Shane McKenna had a different view. “For me, social media is usually a source of stress. Constantly seeing what others are doing can make me feel left out and excluded. I also see large platforms like Instagram as a place for people to build a fake persona due to insecurity (I’m probably guilty of this). The confusion and deception stemming from social media outweighs the benefits for me.”

      Molly Greenwood also expressed a pretty dim view of social media, which “does not play a big role in my life. I try to avoid what I see on it just because most of it cannot be trusted. I use it when I am bored to have something to look at, but otherwise it can create a negative impact on a person.”

      “Social media plays such a minor role in my life,” echoed Morgan Fairbanks. “Sometimes I have to make a conscious effort to stop reaching for my phone, but we have a limited amount of time each day and I try not to waste mine on mindless things. That being said, I like to use social media to keep in touch with people and to stay informed.”

      And while Sophia Farrow said that she will use Facebook to connect with people when in college, “I did not use social media at all throughout my high school career because I felt that it took time away from other activities I could be doing, like studying or spending time with my family and friends.”

What’s the best thing about growing up and living on the Outer Banks?

On this question, there was widespread agreement that a cohesive and friendly community was one major benefit to living here.

      “The people are welcoming and come together especially in times of need like during natural disasters,” wrote Molly Greenwood. “Community events such as beach cleanups or surfing competitions take place regularly. The close-knit community makes it so you are never alone and always have someone to lean on in times of need.”

      Sophia Farrow agreed: “The best part about growing up living in the Outer Banks is that I have been a part of a close knit, supporting community. Being a part of such a small community made it so that it felt more like a large family, especially in high school with my peers.”

      “The ‘everyone knows everyone’ phrase really does apply here,” declared Parker Sylvia. “No matter where you go, you will almost always see someone that you know or have met before. Everyone that lives here is so genuine and kind. I could not think of a better place to have grown up.”

      Shane McKenna cited another key benefit to life on the Outer Banks. “Definitely the ocean,” he wrote. “It attracts tourists, giving our students a wide variety of summer jobs to choose from. It also offers us countless activities like board sports, fishing and diving, but most importantly, it brings people together. There's nothing like a beach day with 20-30 of your friends. I’ll cherish the memories of all-day-beach-days at Eckner Street back in middle school forever.”

      And Morgan Fairbanks acknowledged it was hard to pick just one ‘best’ thing. “There are too many to count!” she said. “The close knit community, the safe environment growing up, the unique opportunities, and the beach are just a few!” 

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