The graduation ceremony for SouthWest Edgecombe High School was fraught with emotion Saturday as students mourned the loss of a senior who was killed in a tragic car wreck two days before graduation.
Madison Wilson, 18, was one of four teens who died in an automobile crash last week in Pitt County. Her brother Devin Wilson, 15, a freshman at the school, also perished in the collision.
“I do not believe there is a way to adequately prepare for the loss of a loved one, let alone so suddenly and unexpectedly. The fact that Madison and Devin were high school students exacerbates the tragedy — they were young and excited about their futures. SouthWest was excited as well,” SouthWest Edgecombe High School Principal Lauren Lampron said.
Lampron said the school is working with the Wilson family to honor the memory of the two students.
“The Wilson family has invited our school family to join them in honoring their children’s memories. The community had a church service, the school was able to present Madison’s diploma at graduation, we will host a moment of silence at an upcoming baseball game and we will have students and staff speaking at the funeral of Madison and Devin,” she said. “By the Wilson family allowing us to join them in participating in these experiences, they have allowed the school community to start our own grieving process. I am thankful for the love that the Wilson family continues to share with our students, staff and community as they process the loss of Madison and Devin.”
Another student in the school district also died in the crash. John “J.T.” Winstead was a baseball player at Tarboro High School. His father is a firefighter with the Tarboro Fire Department.
“Our department was saddened to learn of the tragic passing of his son and three friends who were involved in a motor vehicle accident. Many of us have watched his son J.T. grow and develop over the years into a fine young man dedicated to school, sports, a love for hunting and fishing, his peers and family,” a statement on the Tarboro Fire Department Facebook page reads.
Despite the tragic circumstances, more than 400 Edgecombe County Public Schools seniors participated in graduation ceremonies over the past few days, marking the end of high school careers filled with other challenges, including a pandemic.
A total of 180 SouthWest Edgecombe High School students graduated on Saturday. Madison Pope earned the top spot as valedictorian of her class and Leah Mowen earned the salutatorian spot.
At Tarboro High School, 141 students gained their diplomas. There were 12 students who graduated with honors, including valedictorian Nyla Guildford and salutatorian Aniyah Joseph.
At North Edgecombe High School, 52 students turned their tassels this year. Kayla Sharpe earned the top spot as valedictorian and TyQuain-Herbert Allen earned the honor of salutatorian. Of the 52 graduates from the school, 13 students plan to attend a two-year college, 22 plan to attend a four-year college, two plan to join the military and 15 are headed into the workforce.
Edgecombe Early College High School had a 100 percent graduation rate this year with most students earning at least one associate degree in addition to their high school diploma. Of the 38 graduates this year, 21 students graduated with honors. This year’s valedictorian was Heather Hobbs and the salutatorian was Matthew Rose.
As far as future plans go, 66 percent plan to attend a four-year college while 8 percent plan to attend a two-year college. Another 8 percent of graduates plan to enlist in the military and 18 percent plan to move directly into the workforce.
“We are extremely proud of our graduating class of 2021. They have been resilient and steadfast in the face of a tumultuous 15 months,” Edgecombe County Superintendent Valerie Bridges said last week in an interview.