'We grow best when challenged': 320 graduate from James Wood High School

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Aug 06, 2023

'We grow best when challenged': 320 graduate from James Wood High School

James Wood High School’s 2023 class became the latest to graduate from the

James Wood High School's 2023 class became the latest to graduate from the oldest of the Frederick County high schools on Thursday during commencement exercises at Kelican Stadium.

The graduation marks an end but also a beginning, students said. About 320 graduates wearing navy blue gowns walked the athletic field — striding toward a diploma and a handshake. They were rewarded after four years of dedication and perseverance as crowds gathered in bleachers and on a nearby hill to cheer on the steady stream of graduates.

As noted by members of administration, the James Wood graduates pushed through the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented era in education that brought uncertainty and disruption to schools across the nation. The feeling Thursday was that these students have shown, time and time again, that they can overcome challenges.

"Seniors, after tonight, you will join a list of those who preceded you, which now includes over 22,000 other Colonels, many of whom may also be in attendance tonight — quite an accomplishment," said Principal Sam Gross.

The school is named for a Revolutionary War colonel who also became Virginia's governor. James Wood High School first opened in 1950 on Amherst Street in Winchester. In 1981, the "Ridge Campus" at 161 Apple Pie Ridge Road opened. The school's present-day location is currently undergoing a major renovation.

"This is a great senior class, a special class. They’ve navigated their courses, their SOL tests, and other graduation requirements, but on top of that, they’ve navigated a pandemic. They’ve had activity and athletic disruptions, endured changes to their academic rhythm, and a renovation that is ongoing," Gross said. "You have certainly shown that you can make it through a challenge. I know that you, as Colonels do, will always lead the way."

The guest speaker Thursday was James Wood's teacher of the year Deborah Grumbacher, who has taught all levels of history throughout her career.

"The one thing I remember about my high school graduation was how I felt. I remember sitting beside my peers, this moment of gratitude that we had finally reached the end. I remember tossing my hat into the air as my principal conferred graduation upon us," she said, prefacing an experience these students were about to enjoy.

Grumbacher then recalled the teacher who helped fuel her passion for history, the very subject she teaches to this day.

"So today, here are my words of advice for you: be kind, if nothing else be kind. Be kind to your friends, your loved ones, your colleagues, and your acquaintances," Grumbacher said.

All told, James Wood's 73rd graduation ceremony spanned about 90 minutes. The students who took the podium and offered an address championed their time in the halls of James Wood and challenged their peers to continue striving toward reaching their goals.

James Wood High School valedictorian Bianca Linares spoke about the bittersweet feeling that often accompanies graduations. "As I’m sure many of you are, I’ve been reflecting on the past, particularly moments that have shaped us the most," she said.

She shared an interesting fable a teacher once told her about a professor and a dot. A professor hands a class of students an assignment in which they are instructed to write about what they see on a piece of paper that carries a single black dot, surrounded by white.

Each of the students simply described the dot — its position, its size — rather than the white space surrounding it, the unknown. Linares tied the allegory to a particular message: though people are the black dot at the center of their lives, it's important to be aware of others and immerse oneself in a whole host of experiences.

"We all have a blank space that surrounds us, which is filled with an infinite possibility for joy and our dreams. But we often live our lives focused on the dot, the single mindset," Linares said. "This world is filled with wonders and excitement, and there are many wonders ahead."

Salutatorian Landen Keffer urged his contemporaries to take on risks, challenges, and live life to the hilt.

"I’m normally not someone to focus on the past. Nobody can change it, so rather than reflect on the last four years, I’m going to focus on the future," Keffer said. "I look at it this way: life is like a long hallway in a hotel. There are doors everywhere you look. I encourage everyone to knock on these doors, open them up, step through them and embrace the unknown. This hallway of doors, this hallway of chances, doesn't go on forever. We grow best when challenged."

Per tradition, each graduating class donates a gift for future student generations to enjoy. The Class of 2023 has donated a bench with a plaque containing a quote by Dr. Seuss — "You don't know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory" — that is slated to be positioned at the front of the school.

— Contact Cormac Dodd at [email protected]

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