Since Hallyburton Academy’s inception in 2010, hundreds of students have reached the milestone of graduating and, on June 9, there was no exception to that tradition.

Twenty-nine students adorning black-and dark-green robes took the spotlight in the Old Rock School on June 9 as they celebrated the accomplishment of ending their high school careers.

The Rotary Club of Valdese, who se members volunteer their time with Hallyburton Academy students, awarded three $500 scholarships to graduates Serenity Berry, Rember Alfonzo Cuestas-Acosta and Brandon Danner to help fund furthering their education.

“They say that as one door closes, another opens, but I do not want you to think of today as a door closing,” said Bonnie Wilson, a teacher at Hallyburton Academy. “Whether you are heading to college, out into the workforce or going into the military, I want for you to look back through that door from time to time and remember the lessons you learned and the fun times you had, for it is my wish that they carry you towards a bright future.”

She told graduates she truly enjoyed having them as students, even with their “jokes and silly moments.”

“Today is proof that when things are tough and the odds are stacked against you, you can still persevere and reach success,” Wilson said. “However, you have yet to reach your full potential, so you cannot look at today as your greatest achievement. Continue working, continue smiling, and continue making positive steps toward your futures.”

She praised the Interact Club for their volunteer services at Autumn Care Nursing Home, Drexel Elementary, Agape Assisted Living Center and Valdese Rotary Club.

“I encourage all of you to continue on this course of being active members in your communities,” she said.

Every year, the graduating class dedicates their ceremony to a staff member of Hallyburton Academy and, this year, chose Steven St. Louis, who serves as a teacher assistant, Apex teacher and iCare teacher.

“Students either come for behavior or attendance and credit recovery, and both of these usually fall into Mr. St. Louis’s job description,” Wilson said. “If it had not been for Mr. St. Louis, many of you would not be walking across this stage today.”

Two students took to the stage and gave their reflections on the past few years at the academy.

“Hallyburton is different for several reasons, but especially because our education is more individualized than any other school,” said senior Brandon Danner. “The teachers work hard to help each student in any way and are involved in making sure that each student learns.”

One of the most important things he learned while in high school was to be involved in things whether it was within the school or outside of it.

“No matter what you choose to do in life, don’t just settle,” he said to fellow graduates. “If there is an opportunity for something else, then you should go for it. Hiding off in a corner could end up being an opportunity missed.”

Christian Ragle, another senior graduating made a short sentiment to a classmate, Justin Laws, who died in 2015 and said even though he was not here physically, “he is very much here in spirit and that he’s very much part of the class of 2017.”

He recalls many memories of his time in high school including his first football game, first girlfriend, the music and fashion trends.

“I remember the first time I watched ' Spiderman, ' ” Ragle said. “I leapt off the couch and said, ‘When I grow up, I wanna’ be just like him’ and my mom looked at me and said, ‘Grow up Christian — you graduate next week.’”

He encouraged his classmates to be phenomenal and to “fly through the turbulence and live life to the fullest because in each of us is a warrior fighting our own battles.”

Nancy Hang, the guest speaker for the ceremony and 2013 graduate of Hallyburton Academy, spoke to students about what gives her inspiration to keep striving for success.

“I can still remember the first day I walked into College Street Academy (the alternative school before Hallyburton Academy),” Hang said. “I had just had my first daughter. I was young and school was not my No. 1 priority, but I knew that I had to finish, not to mention that I was too young to quit.”

Her motivation to get through high school was her children and the fact she knew her life was not just about her anymore.

“My girls were always pushing me to do better and be better, and since I graduated, my girls still motivate me,” she said. “No matter what happens, I cannot let myself down, because that will also let them down.”

She questioned the graduates as to what their motivation would be after the ceremony was over.

“Many people can reach success without that driving force, but it’s not as easy, and it doesn’t matter as much,” she said. “The moment has come for you to reflect on your life.”

Each student received their diploma from Principal Jonathan Clontz to conclude the ceremony and end this chapter of life for the graduates of Hallyburton Academy.

Staff Writer Jonelle Bobak can be reached at or 828-432-8907.

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