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Class of 2016 embodies 'New Kent Strong'


In his valedictorian speech, Zhide ‘Andy’ Jin recalled his first impression of New Kent.

“I was the only Asian student in sixth grade,” Jin said, “which was not a fun experience.”

But his experience quickly changed.

“My new friends and teachers helped me feel like I was part of the community, not just living in it,” he said.

That sense of community enveloped New Kent High School’s class of 2016 on Friday night, June 17, as 208 students, their friends and families, gathered in VCU’s Siegel Center for commencement exercises. For many graduates, that community has shaped their lives.

"As you can probably guess, this is a very special group that we are preparing to graduate today, said school principal Christopher Valdrighi. “They have come to embody what we call ‘New Kent Strong.’”

Student speakers reflected on high school memories, both humorous and heart-wrenching.

Torun Carlson said she’d always remember the “awful DJ” at junior prom and the football team’s exciting win over Jamestown last fall. But she’ll remember something else too: “the way our class and the entire community came together in the days and weeks following Oct. 29, 2013, when we lost another one of our own.”

Class president Jacob Butkus-Newman explained the decision to leave two seats empty, in loving memory of two lost classmates.

“Every one of us has come through a hard time,” Jin said, “whether it be a family divorce, death, illness or just plain hard classes that we take in school.”

Jin experienced a time of immense hardship last year.

“On Jan. 20, 2015, my father attempted to murder my mother. My world and my family’s world shattered. I had to work harder and take on more responsibility for my family, as well as keeping up with school,” he said. “All of this would have been overwhelming if the community has not helped pick the pieces back up.”

“We are lucky to live in a community that cares. We are New Kent Strong,” Jin said. “I would like all of us to be New Kent Strong, whether it be in serving our country, helping future classmates in college, co-workers in the workforce or fellow neighbors.”

Valdrighi read excerpts from the scholarship essays of two students, Ashleigh Bedwell and and Sydney Griffith.

“Even though I will be leaving New Kent for college, I know the phrase ‘New Kent Strong’ will follow me where I go,” Bedwell wrote. “This phrase means more to me than just words.”

“New Kent Strong, to me, ultimately  means coming together as one, to strive to better oneself, each other and the community.”   

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

More information

Total enrollment: 939

Class of 2016: 208

Student Speakers: Jacob Butkus-Newman, Torun Carlson, Jackson Gray, Zhide Jin

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