CENTREVILLE — The shady green courtyard outside of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church served as a tranquil setting for Wye River Upper School Class of 2021’s commencement ceremony on Tuesday, May 25.

After a year of blended online and in-person learning, the 11 graduating seniors were grateful to graduate in person, surrounded by family and friends. In a special thanks to their parents for their support over the unusual year, the graduates presented their parents with white roses one by one.

In her address to the class of 2021, founding head of school Chrissy Aull reminded them that as new graduates, they become the masters of their own fates. She encouraged them to remain resilient, and to reach out and grab opportunities as they become available, whether it’s through continuing education, employment or volunteering.

“If there is one attribute each of you have, it is grit,” Aull said. “You don’t successfully navigate the world of learning differences without it. You’ve got grit. The world rewards grit. Use it well and mindfully; make it your superpower as you go forward.”

That grit was well-reflected in the class of 2021 as they navigated through their four years at WRUS. Some students recalled being very quiet or nonverbal as freshmen, but then emerged from their shells as they grew more comfortable and confident with themselves and others.

As a freshman, Laura didn’t talk at all, according to incoming head of school Stephanie Folarian. But once she gets on stage, Laura Wright forgets all of her anxiety about talking and social interaction. An aspiring Broadway star, Wright’s progress shone on the night of her graduation as she stood in front of the audience singing Disney song “Beauty and the Beast.”

For Coale Lenox, his main reason for choosing to attend WRUS four years ago was to receive the one-on-one attention he felt he needed to succeed. The school’s small class sizes and tight-knit atmosphere meant it would be easier to get along with the other students and teachers, a bonus for more reserved Lenox.

“I matured a lot freshman and sophomore year, I came out of my shell,” he said. “I was definitely more shy and laidback, and not as open as I am now, and I think that was a big hurdle, kind of discovering who I was.”

Now more outgoing, Lenox said that being able to socialize with his friends again was one of his favorite parts about coming back in person for some of senior year. Looking back, he would tell his freshman year self to be more social.

“Talk to people, meet as many people as you can,” he reflected. “Don’t close any doors, leave as many doors as you can open because you never know when you’re going to need it.”

The Odenton native is now planning to attend Salisbury University in the fall to study biology, with hopes of one day going into medicine or another science-related field, such as astronomy.

Olivia Gioffre also learned to come out of her shell during her four years at WRUS. As a freshman, she was “super quiet,” and barely talked to anyone, even teachers, she said.

Now looking back, Gioffre says that one of her favorite parts of high school was getting to know everyone, having fun with friends and playing sports. The switch to virtual learning during the pandemic was one of the hardest parts, she said, both for being social and learning.

“I love going to school and seeing friends and socializing,” she said. “Like (with) virtual, you don’t really have that kind of option, so that really kind of bummed me out a lot,” she said.

In the fall, Gioffre plans to take classes at Anne Arundel Community College near her home in Annapolis. With a love for baking — especially making Oreo truffles — she’s thinking about doing culinary classes and seeing what other classes she might like to do.

Annapolis student Tyler Russell also plans to attend Anne Arundel Community College in the fall, hoping to take digital art classes. For the summer, he’s planning on continuing to improve his digital drawing skills in the iPad app Procreate and also learn how to use Clip Studio Paint in his free time.

During his four years at WRUS, Russell overcame a tough challenge: being able to speak.

“I used to not be much of a speaker in general ... I cannot speak for the life of me,” he said. “I just was very hesitant.”

Thanks to the help of his friends, Russell learned how to open up over the course of high school, he said. He finished high school with a major achievement: speaking to the audience during the commencement ceremony on his fellow graduates beginning their new adventures.

To incoming freshmen at WRUS who may be shy or hesitant to talk as well, Russell has one piece of advice — “don’t be so much in your head.”

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