1 of 52
Students toss their caps to the sky at the June 9 Rockingham County High School graduation.
A 2018 tassels hangs off the brim of a students cap at the Rockingham County High School graduation on June 9.
Seniors walk to the auditorium as Reidsville High School commencement gets under way Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Reidsville, N.C.
The Morehead High graduating Class of 2018 listens to commencement keynote speaker Darrius Lewis on Saturday morning, June 9.
Members of the Morehead Class of 2018 stand and prepare to turn their tassles during graduation on Saturday, June 7, 2018.
Morehead High School Principal Dr. Al Royster Jr. tells his 2018 graduates that while he has enjoyed the last three years with them, he too is starting a new chapter in his life and leaving the school.
Morehead High School Student Body President Trinity Baker tells her fellow 2018 graduates on Saturday to keep their hometown of Eden in their minds no matter where they go in life.
Darrius Lewis, a 1994 graduate of Morehead High School talks to his 2018 counterparts at their commencement exercises on Saturday, June 9, 2018.
Lindsey Cox, president of the senior class, presided over the June 9 graduation for the Morehead High School Class of 2018.
Gabriel Hall accepts his diploma from Dr. Al Royster Jr., principal of Morehead High School, as the crowd gives him the loudest applause of the day.
Jaland Wilson walks across the red carpeted stage to accept his diploma from Dr. Al Royster during Morehead High School's graduation on Saturday, June 9, 2018.
A member of the Morehead Class of 2018 is all smiles as she leaves the Duane Best Auditorium with her diploma on Saturday, June 9.
Callie Chilton, center is joined by her grandparents, Melvin and Debra Chilton following the Morehead graduation on Saturday, June 9, 2018. “She’s our last one,” said her grandfather, as her grandmother wiped tears, nodding. Callie is headed to Piedmont International University where she will play soccer and study elementary education.
Three white cap and gowns were placed in the front row of Saturday's commencement ceremony at McMichael High School. The graduate attire was placed in memory of seniors Celine Alamiri, Jason Messer and Caleb Doss.
A graduate approaches the front of the McMichael High School Gymnasium during processional of Saturday's commencement ceremony.
Class Speaker Aaron Reynolds jovially addresses classmates during commencement on June 9. His class speech was entitled, "Time Flies like an Arrow, Fruit Flies like a Banana."
The 2018 Dalton L. McMichael High School graduating class listens in to fellow senior Aaron Reynolds deliver the class speech.
DMHS Principal Ashley Young poses for a photo with a senior following the presentation of his diploma on June 9.
A Phoenix senior makes her way back to her seat after receiving her diploma from Principal Ashley Young and Assistant Principal Tonya Jones.
Kelton Washburn celebrates receiving his diploma behind the backing of the crowd and fellow graduates on June 9.
A graduate closes their eyes for a moment during recessional, as the senior class exited Dalton McMichael High School following commencement.
A father and daughter pose for a selfie following Saturday's commencement ceremony at Dalton L. McMichael High School.
Graduate Lucio Hernandez poses for a picture with friend J.P. Kellogg following Saturday's commencement program.
Joseph Spencer, SGA president, gives his remarks to the senior class during Reidsville High School commencement Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Reidsville, N.C.
Seniors wait for Reidsville High School commencement to begin Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Reidsville, N.C.
Reidsville High School commencement Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Reidsville, N.C.
Joselyn Guzman-Salinas tries to get someone's attention in the crowd following Reidsville High School commencement Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Reidsville, N.C.
Franklin Settle, Sr., left, hold his son's hand, Franklin Settle, Jr., with Sade Boger, as the graduate makes his way to the car following Reidsville High School commencement Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Reidsville, N.C.
Daquez Jackson's tassel and sash flies as he walks across the stage shaking hands during Reidsville High School commencement Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Reidsville, N.C.
Auset Broadax claps as the first name is read to receive their diploma during Reidsville High School commencement Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Reidsville, N.C.
Teachers help Zakari Chaplin with is tie and pinning his sash in preparation for Reidsville High School commencement Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Reidsville, N.C.
Keyon Clark nervously twist his tassel as he listens to speakers during Reidsville High School commencement Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Reidsville, N.C.
A Rockingham County High School graduate walks to shake the hands of school officials after picking up her diploma during the June 9 graduation ceremony.
Student Body President Claudia Benfield reflects on her time at Rockingham County High School during the June 9 graduation ceremony.
Retired Lincoln Elementary School Principal Linda Bass fixes a graduate's stole during the Rockingham County High School graduation on June 9.
A graduate shakes hands down a line of school and community leaders after receiving his Rockingham County High School diploma on June 9.
A student walks across the Rockingham County High School football field toward the school principal to receive her diploma on June 9.
A student marches toward school and community leaders after receiving her diploma during the June 9 Rockingham County High School graduation.
One Rockingham County High School graduate went through the June 9 ceremony with a camera strapped to her wrist.
Rockingham County High School graduate Jonathan Holland celebrates graduation with his family on June 9.
Rockingham County High School graduate Jennifer Ramirez's big family comes out to celebrate her graduation with her.
Collin Pruitt, senior class president, walks up to offer welcoming remarks at the June 9 Rockingham County High School graduation.
A student collects his diploma at the Rockingham Early College High School graduation on May 17.
Graduates crack up laughing as their classmates weave jokes through their reflections during the May 17 Rockingham Early College High School graduation.
Twins Payton and Kensington Laube graduated together on May 17 from Rockingham Early College High School.
Abbey Carter takes the podium during the Rockingham Early College High School graduation ceremony on May 17.
Rockingham Early College High School teacher Will Smith shares this wisdom of his colleagues during his speech at the school's May 17 graduation ceremony.
Graduate Kiana Tatum was surrounded by family after the May 17 Rockingham Early College High School graduation.
Rockingham Early College High School graduate Jonathan Perez celebrates with his family after the May 17 ceremony.
Rockingham Early College High School graduate Hailey Austin and her mother Melody Austin celebrate Hailey's achievement on May 17.
Rockingham Early College High School seniors listen to their class speakers during their May 17 graduation ceremony.
A then-Rockingham Early College High School senior smiles during a reflection at the May 17 graduation ceremony.
ROCKINGHAM COUNTY — Whether they’re diving into careers, packing for college or following any of the many paths open to them, the Class of 2018 has a long journey ahead of them and that journey starts now.
On June 9, seniors from Reidsville, Rockingham County, Morehead and McMichael high schools crossed the stage and accepted their diplomas, a few weeks after Rockingham Early College High School seniors did the same on May 17.
“I'm just excited,” said Superintendent Rodney Shotwell. “I'm looking forward to wonderful things coming out of the Class of 2018 in the future.”
In all, about 905 Rockingham County Schools graduates entered the next phase of their lives.
For about 521 of those graduates, or 58 percent, that next phase is college. According to school officials, college-bound graduates drew in more than $16 million in scholarships.
Morehead topped the charts for the most college-bound graduates from any high school in the county at 158 of 202 grads, about 78 percent of their graduating class.
Next in the lineup, McMichael saw off 207 graduates, with 139 (67 percent) accepting college offers.
At the other three high schools, less than 50 percent of the graduating classes have already accepted college offers, according to school data.
College-bound graduates added up to 108 of 231 graduates (47 percent) at Rockingham, 82 of 187 graduates (44 percent) at Reidsville and 34 of 78 graduates (44 percent) at RECHS.
Across all five high schools, the Rockingham County Schools Class of 2018 included 140 National Honors Society graduates, 135 North Carolina Academic Scholars and 98 Presidents Education Award recipients, according to school officials.
Over the last decade, the county graduation rate has continued to climb reaching a record high with the Class of 2017. The 2010-11 graduation rate was at 72.4 percent and hit 79.9 in 2015-16. Last year, that number soared up by 5.5 percentage points to 85.4 percent, a record high for Rockingham County Schools.
While the N.C. Department of Public Instruction will not release totals until later this year, Shotwell expects the district to remain on this trajectory.
“We still have some seniors that'll be summer school graduates and they have to complete their work by June 30, but based on what I've seen I think we're well on our way to continuing the upward trend,” he said.
Not only that, the superintendent added that he has observed graduation rates for students of various backgrounds make notable gains over the years, an observation which DPI data confirms.
“Whenever I look back at our graduation stats from 2006 or before and we had some underrepresented populations, that's not the case anymore, and I really felt that at both the graduation ceremonies that I attended,” Shotwell said. “There was a lot of diversity. A lot different than what it was in 2006, so we are making a difference.”
According to Shotwell, the continued climb of the district-wide graduation rate can be attributed to RCS’s efforts to meet each student’s unique needs.
“If they get behind, we try to figure out a way for them to be able to catch back up and support them because we know that, in order for them to really do anything in that next step of life, they've got to have a high school diploma and that's whether they go to work, military or to some other type of post-secondary school,” Shotwell said. “There are certain requirements and I feel like our dropout prevention coordinators, our counselors, our teachers and our principals have just done an outstanding job over the last several years of seeing all students be successful.”
As a few final remarks to the graduation class, Shotwell said, “As the kids are graduating, I'm starting to know a lot of them when I'm signing all the diplomas, and it's amazing to see, because all these kids that graduated this year were here in the first grade when I came to Rockingham County Schools. It's really powerful to see these kids go from being a young child to an adult walking across the stage there and their whole life ahead of them.”
He also extended his thanks to the parents for joining their students on this journey, making sure students keep up with their homework, show up to class and providing the district support in making sure students are successful.
RockinghamNow Reporter Joe Dexter and Managing Editor Gerri Hunt contributed to this article.
Contact Justyn Melrose at (336) 349 -4331, ext. 6140 and follow @JMelrose_RCN on Twitter.