Graduation signifies the end of an educational chapter in a person’s life. It is ironic that the nomenclature used to designate the ceremonies (commencement) is also a word that means “a beginning.” While graduation indeed signifies the end of something, it is best to view it as the beginning of something greater.
No matter their age, every individual who receives a diploma has a story. Several area graduates shared their stories with us this week.
Rone set sites on South
Sixteen-year-old Presley Rone will be attending University of South Alabama in the fall. While she is younger than most freshmen, Rone is focused and intent. Since her middle school years, Rone has challenged herself to learn and to achieve more. “I felt like I wasn’t smart enough. So, I would study so much on my own. I would study ACT books and textbooks to learn on my own. It never mattered to me that I didn’t have homework, I would sit there for hours and study.”
Rone’s drive and determination has paid off. After spending the majority of her middle and high school years at Leroy High School, she moved last summer to Sandpoint, Idaho to explore different educational opportunities. At the beginning of the school year, she was deemed educationally gifted and allowed to skip a grade. So, her senior year began much quicker than Rone or her mother, Candy Williams, anticipated.
True to form and a testament to the study habits she developed in middle school, Rone enrolled in the honors program and dual credit Advanced Placement classes. She maintained an impressive GPA while managing a challenging schedule and being a varsity cheerleader at Sandpoint High School. Her 3.8 GPA over the course of her high school career is proof of her dedication to her studies and to her future.
Rone has been awarded the University Scholarship from University of South Alabama. She accepted this scholarship, but was awarded full tuition scholarships from College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York. Nova Southeastern University Boca Raton, Fla. and University of Texas, Arlington.
Her ultimate career goal is to become a psychiatric doctor of nursing practice. The first step begins this fall as she begins her studies toward a bachelor of science in nursing degree. Presley Rone offers these words of wisdom to local students, “If you try hard enough in your studies, you will succeed greatly.”
Stories abound regarding legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant even 36 years after his death. The stoic, no-nonsense coaching great was once featured by Ripley’s Believe It or Not for playing a 1935 rivalry game against Tennessee with a broken leg. At the time, he was the first to have done so. It is unclear if the injury hampered any more of the 1935 season for Bryant, but the story of that broken bone in that game remains. Ripley’s likely does not know of Leroy High School’s quarterback, J.E.B. Rice.
As the quarterback for the LHS Bears, Rice amassed stats that surpassed the national average in total yards, touchdown passes, yards per game, completions and attempts. Rice’s record of two interceptions throughout his career is well below the national average. Rice’s leadership was demonstrated each Friday night as he called the plays and led the team in a 9- 4 season. For 13 weeks, Rice was fully present for all regular season and playoff games, including game five against Thomasville when his right fibula was broken. Not one willing to sit the bench, Rice returned to play following the hit, unaware that a bone had been broken. For two more weeks, he continued physical therapy to treat the leg that hurt “some,” but was neither unbearable nor swollen.
After two weeks of physical therapy, an X-ray was recommended. Rice and his parents, Heather and Barry, were shocked to learn that the athlete’s leg was indeed broken. “By the time they did the X-ray, it had started to heal. They told me to do what I was comfortable doing,” Rice stated. Rice was extremely comfortable on the gridiron and that’s where he stayed. “My coaches and teammates told me that they would support me if I could not play, but I had to play.”
Rice is both a competitor and a motivator. His leadership and accomplishments on the field have been noted by the Leroy faithful for several seasons; however, J.E.B.’s academic achievements are also stellar. At senior awards day, Rice was recognized for receiving scholarships totaling in excess of $590,000. Rice never mentioned his academic accomplishments, but continually acknowledged his teammates, coaches and parents for their encouragement and support throughout his career.
Although he has received offers to play football at the college level, Rice decided instead to accept the University Scholarship to the University of South Alabama where he will study sports management. He hopes to be involved with the Jaguar football team. Rice’s parents say that they know J.E.B. will continue to be involved with the sport that he loves and they look forward to seeing him find success in another realm of sports.
Ripley representatives may not ever make their way to Washington County, but there is no doubt that J.E.B. Rice has heard the stories of “Bear” Bryant and possibly this famous quote, “ If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards.”
When she graduated high school in 2011, Lauren Jett left for Auburn University in the fall. She was doing what was expected of her, attending a university. Jett had not considered technical programs or community college. “Sitting through the classes day in and day out was a struggle,” Jett recalls. Soon, an unexpected pregnancy changed Jett’s plans drastically.
She left school before her daughter Ayden was born in 2013. At that time, Jett put her educational plans on hold and focused on raising her daughter. She worked to provide for them, but knew a degree would afford more opportunities. She attempted to take classes twice, but the balance of work, school and motherhood was exhausting. Jett realized that she did not want a typical 9-5 career. She wanted a hands-on approach, but was undecided on a major.
When her daughter started kindergarten, Jett began to look into programs that would fit her schedule. The Alabama School of Nail Technology and Cosmetology in downtown Jackson seemed like an answer to Jett’s concerns related to her child and her schedule. “I have never been girly or super into hair and makeup but I figured I’d give it try and I fell in love.”
Jett finished the program in January and quickly found employment at a Saraland salon. “It was hard but thanks to the support and love from my friends and family, I made it through. I finally feel like I have found my forever home in my career!”
Jett hopes that her story will encourage students to look into all programs and ask questions instead of following someone else’s recommendations. She also encourages young mothers to go achieve their goals.
Lauren Jett’s story is proof that sometimes unexpected situations lead to life’s greatest blessings. She is reminded of this when she sees her daughter and each time she clocks in to a career that she loves.
Maggie moves mountains
Magdelyn Ann Pritchett will receive her high school diploma tomorrow night. Maggie is the daughter of Rachel and Thomas Anderson and Jody Pritchett. A homecoming maid and Fire Prevention maid, Maggie’s bright smile is ever-present. Unfortunately, so are her health problems. Since she was 5 months old, Maggie has faced mountains of debilitating ailments.
Rachel Anderson says that her daughter missed out on a good portion of her childhood and teen years due to a variety of health problems that specialists have struggled to agree upon. Maggie has neurogenic bladder/retention with frequent UTIs, degenerative disc disease with bulging disc, and many other autoimmune symptoms. At the age of 16, it was discovered that Maggie had significant hearing loss in both ears. In February, she was diagnosed with lymphocytic colitis, a rare inflammatory bowel disease.
Kidney stones in April resulted in a serious kidney infection that has caused Maggie to have to selfcatheterize. Doctors informed Anderson that that her vibrant daughter will have to do this for the rest of her life. “If she doesn’t follow instructions exactly, she will go into kidney failure,” Anderson stated.
Pritchett could possibly have a device surgically implanted to control her bladder, but there is a chance that it would not be successful and could lead to more problems.
Maggie missed three weeks of her senior year at Jackson Academy due to complications from the kidney infection and lymphocytic colitis. “For about three weeks she didn’t get off the couch other than to go to the doctor. She didn’t even go to Gigi’s and that says something,” Anderson reported of her daughter who enjoys spending time with her large family.
Maggie has seen a variety of specialists in Mobile, Birmingham and Pensacola, Fla., but an overall diagnosis has yet to be given. The specialists referred Pritchett’s case to the Mayo Clinic. On May 10, the call came from Mayo indicating that Maggie was accepted for treatment. According to her mother, “Maggie will first see an internal medicine doctor and then he will ‘farm’ her out to the specialists and tests he feels she needs to see and to have.
This is a diagnostic and treatment plan visit. She will see many doctors and have many tests in that week. There possibly will be other appointments in the future.” Pritchett and her mother will travel to Rochester, Minn. for the Mayo Clinic appointments in late June.
Through all of the appointments, blood draws, tests and needle sticks, Maggie has been a trooper. The baby of the family, Maggie is known as the family “fireball.” She is determined and headstrong, a natural born leader. “Maggie is so headstrong and nothing phases her most of the time. God knew exactly what He was doing when He gave Maggie this cross to bear,” Anderson said, acknowledging that as parents the frustrations and worries over their daughter’s condition been more burdensome for them than it has for Maggie. Anderson admits that while they have silently mourned the fact that their daughter missed many school activities and had to give up softball due to her illness, Maggie has persevered. Maggie’s family is thankful for the faculty and staff at Jackson Academy who have been supportive throughout her illness and provided any medical and educational accommodations.
Pritchett’s grit and resolve have served her well throughout her health struggles. No doubt these will assist her throughout her life. Maggie’s dream is to earn a degree in funeral and mortuary science. Currently, she is taking courses to earn a medical assistant degree.
A Facebook page has been created to keep family and friends aware of Maggie’s prognosis. “Maggie Moves Mountains” will be updated frequently.
A popular lyric from Green Day’s song, “Closing Time” is “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” How true this is regarding graduation! The possibilities are endless! While students are celebrating the end of one educational experience, most parents are lamenting it. Instead of mourning the end, embrace the new season and the many “commencements” or beginnings that it affords.
Congratulations, class of 2019.
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.